Yassamine Mather’s article, ‘Syrian disaster’ (October 6), is very informative on the conflicting forces in Syria and the whole conflict in the region, but it is ultimately third-campist.
This is exemplified by the view that “The Russian intervention, which started a year ago, was a disaster from the beginning and is proving to be a major factor in the escalation of the conflict”; and the final paragraph: “There is no short cut to defeating all the region’s reactionary forces - IS, Iran’s Islamic Republic, Assad, etc - nor to building a viable force to oppose Russian and American-led interventions. Yes, it will be long, hard struggle. The PYD’s actions have played into our enemies’ hands”.
In the first place let us define third-campism. It may be understood as succumbing to the demands of Stalinism and bourgeois nationalists that we give them uncritical support against imperialism and it is true that Trotsky used it in this sense in the mid-1930s. In those circumstances the independent stance of the working class globally for world revolution was third-campism. But he rejected the term totally in the late 1930s, because Max Shachtman was beginning to use the term to suggest that that there was no fundamental obligation on the international working class to defend the USSR on the basis that it was a degenerated workers’ state. So he began defining the USSR as ‘bureaucratic collectivism’ - a non-class designation short of actual state capitalism, which made it possible initially to still defend the USSR, then to be equidistant from both ‘camps’. But this led via a series of adjustments to support for US imperialism itself; Shachtman abandoned Marxism by initially defining the USSR itself as imperialist then supporting the CIA-sponsored invasion of the Bay of Pigs in 1961.
The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, following their essential mentor, Shachtman, likes to exploit this confusion - as do the CPGB frequently, but not to the degree that Matgamna does. Although Jack Conrad’s designation of the USSR between 1928 and 1991 as of a non-class nature is clearly early to middle Shachtman, so, like the early Shachtman, he still defends the USSR against Nazism, but refused to identify it as still containing the basic elements of a workers’ state in its mode of production. The grosser and more rightist later error of Shachtman and the present AWL was and is to refuse all critical but unconditional support to the USSR and all semi-colonial countries against imperialism then and now. The CPGB do not, so are more leftist third-campists than the AWL.
The above quotes fly in the face of this principled anti-imperialist stance. Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and even Egypt are semi-colonial countries and so we must defend them against imperialist attacks, regime-change uprisings and coups sponsored by the USA and its proxy regional agents.
The USA remains the global hegemonic imperialist power; all other imperialist powers are its more or less willing allies. Neither China nor Russia are imperialist on Lenin’s famous 1916 criteria (Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism). And the main issue in Syria is the national rights of the Syrian nation and that is primarily defended by the Assad-led Syrian government.
This does not mean uncritical support for Assad or the methods he uses in this conflict - those of a corrupt bourgeois nationalist - but it does demand unconditional support against imperialism and their proxy clients in the region.
We cannot grant any such critical but unconditional support to the YPG/Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and Rojava, whilst they remain clients of the USA, as Yassamine correctly points out. Inevitably they will come into more conflict with Assad and Russia. This does not mean we abandon support for the self-determination of Kurdistan, but not on these terms. We must take the greater global class struggle as our chief guiding principle.
Similarly, we should have opposed the US-sponsored coup against Erdogan on July 15 unconditionally but critically. No support for his use of the crackdown not only to arrest and imprison the coup plotters (absolutely justified), but also to crack down on the trade unions, the left and the Kurds (100% opposition).
Similarly, no support for the Turkish invasion of Syria, using the bogus excuse of attacking Islamic State - in reality to attack the YPG and the Kurdish struggle for self-determination. This brought into conflict two USA-sponsored proxies: the Kurds sponsored by the Pentagon and more Obama-preferred; and the Free Syrian Army, more sponsored by the CIA and John Kerry. The audio that is now online of his meeting with FSA supporters at the United Nations is very revealing of the difficulty faced by the USA here: they have basically run out of options.
Of course, Turkey and the FSA won on that one, because the priority now is to stop Erdogan leaving Nato for the Russia-China bloc. And the US project of a client Rojava with US bases to surround Russia and China must be postponed for now to secure this more pressing need in the preparation of World War III. And Erdogan plays that game of manoeuvre to his advantage.
In all this IS and al Qa’eda, al-Nusra/Jabhat Fateh al-sham and all the other jihadists (Yassamine is correct: there are no ‘moderates’ left) also manoeuvre. Israel is important here, as is Saudi Arabia. Israel does not simply want what the USA wants, but to maintain conflicts, such that no serious power hegemonises the region to threaten its existence. Saudi Arabia wants to maintain and spread Wahhabism to ward off threats of revolution to its own brutal, semi-feudal rule.
Clearly the USA and Russia and even Turkey are obliged to fight IS by public pressure and self-interest to an extent. No bourgeois democracy could be publicly seen to support so openly ferociously reactionary forces. Russia clearly began the serious assault on them, obliging the USA and Europe to follow. But Russia’s chief concern was defence of Syrian national sovereignty - a correct and progressive political aim, despite the cynical motives of Putin.
Therefore, the attacks of the Russian air force on IS, on the FSA and al Qa’eda were and are progressive, because their aims are progressive. We would critically support them, observing that it is very far from a real revolutionary orientation, so desperately needed in the region.
No support for US or other imperialist bombings of IS or anyone else here or anywhere else. We reject with contempt the bleeding-heart reports, which present bloodied children victims of Russian or IS barbarism to cover the predatory aims of imperialism - the real imperialism that ensures poverty, starvation and unending wars for the profits of the global hegemon and its allies. Hence the well coordinated propaganda offensive about the terrible death and destructions being unleashed on east Aleppo by Assad and Putin. And the glorification of the White Helmets and the Syria Campaign as another example of ‘soft imperialist’ power by mass-media manipulation.
In another war and with other combatants, these ‘defenders’ would be using these civilians as human shields, and we would all be expected to swallow that they were responsible for the civilian casualties. As we will surely be told shortly when the attack on Mosul begins. And the million dead Iraqis from the 2003 invasion and the dead children in west Aleppo and all the other Syrian cities under government control (at least as many as under rebel control) get no mention. We all know about the fog of war, but a simple Google search will get you these statistics.
These wars are all driven by the insatiable search for profits by the great finance houses of Wall Street and their associated transnational corporations. We should be absolutely certain on this point and not vacillate on it by attempting to find an equally culpable ‘eastern imperialism’ operating in the Middle East, in Latin America, south-east Asia, Africa or anywhere else.
Should we call on members of the Labour left to attend the forthcoming ‘National conference to fight the purge’, organised by the campaign, ‘Stop the Labour Purges’? It does sound like a good idea to do something to fight for the rights of the thousands that have unjustly been suspended, expelled or denied a vote in the recent Labour leadership election, surely?
Our answer in short: no.
Stop the Labour Purge has been set up by members and supporters of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. For a long time, the campaign concentrated exclusively on those being suspended and/or expelled from the Labour Party for their association with the AWL. However, they show less solidarity when it comes to others experiencing the same fate - especially those painted with the scandalous ‘anti-Semitic’ brush.
Jackie Walker is the prime example here, of course. When the pro-Zionist Jewish Labour Movement leaked the secretly taped contributions from comrade Walker to the media and Labour’s unelected compliance unit a few weeks ago, members and supporters of the AWL went into witch-hunting overdrive. Although she had just been suspended by the Labour Party - for the second time! - they made no efforts to defend her.
Instead, they posted old articles about “left anti-Semitism” (which is a title they stick on anybody who opposes the state of Israel or Zionism), called her comments “unacceptable” and argued that she should be removed as vice-chair of Momentum.
As is now well known, the two AWL supporters on Momentum’s steering committee, Jill Mountford and Michael Chessum, wholeheartedly supported the move by Momentum chair and company owner Jon Lansman to remove Jackie Walker from her position of national vice-chair - in fact, they proudly reported it online. As an aside, Jackie Walker, on the other hand, has stuck to the request of the steering committee not to comment on her demotion and simply pointed to its mealy-mouthed statement (see LPM bulletin No3 on www.labourpartymarxists.org.uk). A mistake, in our view. Outrageous decisions like the one taken by the steering committee should be openly discussed and debated by Momentum branches up and down the country. Her view on the matter and on the process of her demotion would help.
The organisers of the Stop the Labour Purge conference have tried to cover their backs by publishing a statement on comrade Walker, in which they now ask that the Labour Party should “reinstate” her ... on October 7 - ie, more than full week after her suspension. This is too little and way too late to convince anybody.
In our view, members and supporters of the AWL have behaved in a truly treacherous way. They have given ammunition to the right wing in the Labour Party and the mainstream media. By supporting and pushing for comrade Walker’s demotion, they have given credence to the ludicrous notion that the Labour Party is ‘overrun by anti-Semites’. In effect, they are sabotaging Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour left.
And this is not the only scab campaign they are involved in. They are also pushing the open letter, entitled ‘Speak out on Syria’, that criticises Jeremy Corbyn on his “silence” on the war in Syria and urges him to “condemn, clearly and specifically, the actions of Assad and Russia in Syria, which have caused the overwhelming majority of civilian deaths and which present the biggest obstacle to any workable solution to the Syrian crisis” (https://speakoutonsyria.wordpress.com).
Again, they are playing right into the hands of the rightwing media, the right in the Labour Party and even Boris Johnson, who seemed to have been paying attention to the AWL in his speech in the House of Commons this week: “There is no commensurate horror, it seems to me, amongst some of those anti-war protest groups. I’d certainly like to see demonstrations outside the Russian embassy. Where is the Stop The War Coalition at the moment? Where are they?” (Daily Mail October 10).
We urge all Labour Party members and those purged to boycott the AWL’s conference. Instead, we call on the Labour left to move motions in Labour Party and Momentum branches and Labour organisations that condemn the purges, the demotion of Jackie Walker by Momentum and call for democratic structures in our organisations. There are a number of model motions available on the LPM website.
Labour Party Marxists
A major aspect of Hillel Ticktin’s understanding of the possibility of socialism is that it already represents a process that is occurring within capitalism: “Socialism comes into being because the basis of it already exists within capitalism. In other words, the socialisation of the means of production actually starts to exist within capitalism” (‘The period of transition’, October 6).
We may agree with this comment in general terms, and agree that aspects of the existing economy are already based on planning and rational allocation of resources. But the problem Ticktin refuses to address is the question of how this potentiality is realised in terms of the actual creation of socialism. Ticktin considers that we are in a transitional period between capitalism and socialism, but this understanding does not explain how this prospect of advance is to be made effective. Hence he seems to neglect two important things.
Firstly, given that capital is still dominant over labour within the relations of production, this means the capitalist system will continue to be perpetuated. Consequently, any tendency expressing the decline of capitalism is contrasted to the continued ability of the present social formation to oppose the prospect of transformation of the economic system. The domination of capital within the economy represents the aspect that undermines any progressive generation of change in terms of the impulse for socialisation.
Secondly, the prospect of change to socialism requires successful class struggle. But we know that this potential is presently undermined by the weakness and limitations of Marxist organisations, and the influence of bourgeois ideology within the working class. Hence there is a low level of class-consciousness because of the successful offensive of capital over the past 40 years. This situation has led to alienated discontent, which expresses itself in terms of support for nationalism. Thus the political situation is not as favourable as the economic in relation to the tendencies for the realisation of socialism.
In other words, Ticktin’s perspective relies on automatic impulses from the economy in order to justify the possibility of change. His approach is not based on the dynamics of the class struggle, which is the primary basis for understanding whether transformation to socialism can occur. Instead of any analysis of the relationship of the class struggle to the prospect for socialism, Ticktin contends the system is malfunctioning and is in a crisis: “And, as I have argued, it is a crisis from which there appears to be no end, except via socialism.”
Ticktin outlines his view that market socialism is impractical and unrealistic, but then has to admit: “… by 1921 the Bolsheviks retreated and reintroduced the market. It is quite obvious that you cannot make the jump in one go.”
This is precisely the point. Actual practice indicates that the perspective of a transition period aiming to realise socialism cannot do without the market. The Bolsheviks realised this because war communism was a terrible failure, and the seizure of grain from the peasants without providing them with incentives only led to unrest. Hence it was necessary to retreat and allow freedom to trade. The crucial problem, as Trotsky pointed out, was to provide industrial goods at low prices in exchange for agricultural goods. Furthermore, the attempt to end the New Economic Policy with the introduction of forced collectivisation meant the justification of economic adventurism, which was seriously criticised by Trotsky.
We know that this attempt to abolish the role of the market was actually about strengthening the domination of the bureaucracy over the control of the surplus product. The point being made is that any serious attempt to introduce socialism should involve the intention not to generate upheaval and uncertainty in the economic process. The advance of popular control over the economy will go together with the continuation of the market. For example, supermarkets are an excellent means to sell goods roughly in accordance with the role of supply and demand. Their importance will be continued, but on the basis that the influence of labour over the productive process replaces the domination of capital. This development will involve wage increases in order to ensure a more efficient correspondence between supply and demand. Hence the aim will be to increase the efficiency of the market rather than engage in adventurist actions to abolish it.
The point being made is that it is not the market that results in the inability to meet the consumption needs of a population; rather what causes this problem is the importance of disparities in economic power and inequality in terms of the levels of material wealth. We have to tackle these issues if we are to establish a democratic socialist society. Hence the aim of overcoming the influence of capital within the relations of production is compatible with the continuation of the role of the market. The market becomes no longer an expression of the imperatives of capital accumulation, and is instead connected to the egalitarian aims of the socialist economy under workers’ control.
Ticktin does not endorse this argument because he has been brought up on the dogma that socialism advances alongside the abolition of the market. If he really wants to incorporate the progressive advances of capitalism within socialism, he will recognise that one of these advances is the role of the market. This has encouraged the development of relative consumer prosperity within the advanced capitalist countries. Hence to end the role of the market in the name of dogma would be to introduce uncertainty and establish the possibility of a shortage economy.
I have only recently been reading Weekly Worker online and have enjoyed the in-depth articles and much of the ideas coming from the paper. I share most of the positions Paul Demarty takes up in his article, ‘Opening shots of next election’ (October 6). I completely agree with Paul’s view of the Socialist Workers Party’s tactics, which are generally detached from the actually existing politics of the working class. The Morning Star, as he rightly indicates, offers no connection between Corbyn’s politics as Labour leader and workplace and street movements.
However, I am unclear on how the author sees your work inside the Labour Party. I understand that the paper does not support parliamentarianism as the road to socialism. But I have not seen anything (possibly by my own failings) that explains how you link revolutionary politics in your approach to the Labour membership other than the attempt to democratise it and to polemicise. Offering your paper to read and having discussions with Labour members is, of course, important, but is dialectical only in the ideational sense. How do Labour Party Marxists address the need for the experiential development of the class and its allies by going through with them their experiences in class action?
It is true that the SWP’s campaigns are generally artificially engineered and in my experience usually designed to show that the SWP is at the centre of the universe. Nevertheless, is it not important to aim to build from within the Labour Party - or where this is not yet feasible to point to the need to build - a class-struggle left wing inside the movement as a whole?
Isn’t it important to win widening layers inside the movement to lead the class as a whole in class struggles that reach beyond parliament and elections? This need not be done in a sectarian way. The left can still be seen to support radicalising Labour members and trade unionists in voting Labour and getting behind their best initiatives. But failure to build, or pose the need to build, class action, it seems to me, is a failure to advance in practice the development of the class.
Do Marxists inside the Labour Party then not advance a strategy in action to march in step with the steelworkers’ fight for jobs in an active call for nationalisation of the steel industry (democratically, and all the rest of it), and join those workers in the streets? Is that not an example of pulling together the industrial with the political in a dialectically dynamic way? And do we not recognise that - actually - movements and industrial struggles can sometimes win and thereby improve the lives of workers and their potential allies? Were the seven million women who went on strike in Poland and then used the streets not successful in pushing back the most reactionary attempts to extend the anti-abortion laws a week ago? And doesn’t that give confidence to those women to move forward in struggle? We might sniff that there are only half a million Labour members who alone cannot win elections. And there may not be seven million women in this country engaged in a fight with the state right now. But there have been in recent times millions of workers prepared to strike against austerity and public-sector job losses.
My questions are not written rhetorically. I am not pushing the politics of some other left group. I genuinely don’t know the Weekly Worker’s answer to these things and would be interested if you have a little time to read your response, in the paper or otherwise.
Great article in the Weekly Worker and thanks for returning some sanity to the debate on the Labour Party and the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn (‘Going into overdrive’, October 6). It’s odd that the Communist Party of Britain and their paper, the Morning Star, are so pro-Corbyn, as in the past they hated the Labour Party, though with good reason. As for Michael Foot, you could go back further to Harold Wilson. This is what the Tribune newspaper had to say about him:
“He has not only qualities of political acumen, political skill and survival power which no-one denies him. Other considerable qualities too for a Labour leader - a coherence of ideas, a readiness to follow unorthodox courses, a respect for democracy ... above all a deep and genuine love of the Labour movement” (February 22 1963).
History tells us how that worked out. Or, as Malcolm Caldwell put it in Tribune,
“Socialist principles have been tossed aside with almost indecent cynicism and casualness. Racial discrimination in Britain has been condoned and strengthened. American butchery in Vietnam has been actively supported and encouraged. Social welfare and economic development in Britain have been sacrificed to carry out a reactionary economic programme at the behest of international finance capital. What of the left leaders in parliament? Tell them off on your fingers, comrades, and think of their words and deeds in recent months, while the Labour movement has been sold down the river. It is a sad picture and I can personally neither see nor offer any excuses. Are we finished, we of the Labour left?” (August 20 1965).
In his letter of resignation from the Labour Party on September 24 1965, Alan Dawe, the paper’s education correspondent, wrote in Tribune: “We are not right to view the Labour Party and its latter-day works as having anything to do with socialism. They don’t, they won’t and it is time we faced up to it.”
Yet 50 years later the left still haven’t faced up to this. What was it that Marx wrote about history repeating itself?
In and out
On October 8 protests against leaving the European Union took place at a number of places along the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Meanwhile the demand for Irish passports continues to rise.
Referendum day, June 23 2016, was a ‘republican moment’, when sovereignty - the power to decide - passed temporally to the people. Without forgetting those millions of EU citizens and 16-18-year-olds excluded, the people voted to leave the European Union. However, the citizens of Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to stay, and those protesting on the Irish border are saying their votes have been stolen from them.
Of course, the UK is a constitutional monarchy, not a republic. This ‘republican moment’ is exactly that - only a moment. No sooner it was over than power returned immediately to the ‘crown-in-parliament’. As has been pointed out before, the ‘crown’ is a political front for the City of London and the number-one priority of government is to plot a way around this which secures the interests of financial capital and their corporate friends. The financial markets are assessing progress so far. The pound is down and share prices up.
The crown and parliament are not equal partners. The crown, as represented through her majesty’s first minister, normally has the lion’s share of the power. The prime minister will decide how much of the secret negotiations are to be revealed to parliament. But the crown is not having its own way. There is a dispute with parliament over who has the right to trigger article 50.
At the centre of the crown’s ‘coup d’etat’ is the slogan that ‘Brexit means Brexit’. The Tories and Ukip never fail to define what Brexit means: apparently everybody who voted for Brexit did so for racist reasons - they wanted to keep out foreign immigrants. But this is simply untrue. Many voted to leave for other reasons. A majority in England and Wales for leaving the EU is not a majority to stop immigration or end free movement. That is an idea which racist parties promote, but is not a democratic fact. It was not on the ballot paper and we did not vote on it. Others voted to leave to restore full sovereignty to the crown-in-parliament and some, such as the SWP, just to embarrass or damage the ruling class. The Tory Brexiters claim the result means there must be free trade and the free movement of capital, but not the free movement of workers. These important arguments were not on the ballot paper.
Socialists must totally and utterly reject the idea of Brexit and all racist arguments supporting it. It is an attempt to use chauvinist and racist ideas to steal the EU referendum result and use it in the interests of the financial and business class. It is anti-democratic. The Brexiteers are fanning the flames of chauvinism to divert attention from their secret negotiations and their plan to secure a result favourable to the City and business, whilst doing the maximum to divide the working class.
Democratic Exit recognises all the facts about who voted and who did not. It recognises that minorities have rights, including the right to be heard. It recognises that Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU and must be allowed and enabled to stay there (Denmark-Greenland option). All democrats in England and Wales must as a principle support the right of the Scottish and Irish people to self-determination, including their right to remain in the EU. Such a policy would minimise the economic damage and make sure that leaving the EU does not in itself cause the break-up of the UK - the likely result of imposing exit against the will of the Scottish and Irish people.
Left Unity and Rise
We are writing to inform you about the alarming situation in France pertaining to the movement against the labour law reform. While presidential candidates are apparently selected on the grounds that they are crooks, activists assaulted by law enforcement are facing disproportionate charges.
Much to our anger and contempt, we learned about the sentence meted out to Martin Pontier, then federal secretary of the French Communist Youth, for defending himself against six armed police officers. Seven of them pressed charges. Our comrade is now facing an eight-month suspended prison sentence and a €3,850 fine.
Martin is the eighth activist in the Loire département brought to (in)justice for opposing the labour law reform. Three of us already owe the courts more than €3,000 each. Three others have been let off for now, but are facing appeal.
And that is not the end of it. The day before the judge’s decision was announced on September 6, four other General Confederation of Labour activists were summoned to the police station on dubious charges. The law routinely punishes people for their opposition to power. Once again, the situation is alarming.
Communist Youth of Loire