Kicking out

Following the bans and proscriptions by the Labour Representation Committee on leftists at its AGM on October 29, the Labour Party Socialist Network has got in on the act. Nick Wrack held a meeting on November 26, which I had hoped to attend, as I reported in last week’s Weekly Worker (Letters, November 24). But I got a phone call from Ed Potts on Friday night. No, I could not attend, he told me, to “to avoid embarrassment”. He had looked at our website, and had I not seen the email he sent to me back in October telling me this? No, I had missed it, but I found it quickly:

“Unfortunately as a member of an existing democratic centralist organisation (Socialist Fight) you are ineligible for membership. This was agreed at our founding meeting, which produced the basic statement available here: socialistnetwork.org.uk/what-we-stand-for.

“Yours with comradely greetings

“Ed Potts (co-chair, LPSN) - on behalf of the exec.”

I replied to Ed on Facebook:

“Well, Socialist Fight is a proscribed organisation. Ed has trawled our website and decided we do not fit the bill. Curiously my appeal against expulsion in August 2015 was accepted by the Labour Party on the grounds that the political views we expressed for revolution and getting rid of capitalism was in line with its founder, Keir Hardie, and many since.

“I don’t think socialists should endorse the witch-hunts of Guido Fawkes, David Cameron and the compliance unit of Iain McNicol. I have been a Labour Party member for 30-odd years with a few short breaks. And it comes as very strange from Ed Potts, who said the following in 2015, when he was a Left Unity candidate against Labour:

‘None of this should imply a sectarian attitude towards the Labour left - indeed I reluctantly accept the generally orthodox idea that socialists in their constituencies should campaign for them to be re-elected. After all, they perform a genuinely useful function as mouthpieces for the movement within the House of Commons. However, it is important to recognise that by doing so we are merely sustaining the status quo: ie, preserving their position as an accurate reflection of the left’s current strength within the Labour Party - able to get a handful of MPs elected, but not much else besides.

‘To throw our energies into a serious campaign aimed not only at existing Labour members, but also encouraging new radicalised layers (or even those who have themselves previously broken away from Labour), to engage as supporters goes far beyond this appropriately modest level of support, and is a strategic mistake for all of the reasons outlined above. We would be giving people the mistaken impression that there was something significant to be achieved within Labour, if only they are vociferous enough and numerous.’”

Ed Potts explained in reply: “And then things changed, didn’t they, Gerry? Changed in a big way. So I thought about things long and hard, and discussed it all out with lots of comrades, and ultimately formed a different opinion based on the changed circumstances.

“It’s disappointing you’re trying to personalise this [as the colonel said to the protesting rebel before the firing squad - GD]. We’ve made clear who is and isn’t eligible to become a member - it’s in our founding documents, which I thought you would have read. And we repeated it several times over in the details of Saturday’s meeting. I don’t see how the reasonable person could be left in any doubt where they stand.”

The obvious conclusion forced on us is that such a rule defines the LPSN itself as a democratic centralist - or more correctly a bureaucratic centralist - organisation and so all members should expel themselves. Nick Wrack must have concurred, if not initiated all this. These former comrades of Left Unity (!) hope to persuade Ian McNicol that because they are prepared to join the witch-hunt against Gerry Downing and Socialist Fight they really cannot be such bad people after all - as the LRC NC also hoped, when they reportedly voted unanimously to expel me without hearing or appeal on a charge of anti-Semitism on April 2.

“From outside pissing in to inside kicking out” (as one wag commented) might seem a reasonable refutation of any past socialist principles that McNicol might charge them with.

Gerry Downing
Socialist Fight

Goodbye, Fidel

It is with some sadness that I note the passing of comrade Fidel Castro, a great and dedicated revolutionary socialist.

Fidel’s political direction was uncertain at the beginning. He and his band of compañeros were composed of many mixed opinions - anarchists, Marxists, nationalist democrats - all united in trying to overthrow the fascistic dictator and mafia gangster, Batista. Batista had made Cuba the playground of the US tax dodgers - a floating brothel for the rich and famous - while the people of Cuba lived in literally medieval conditions of chronic poverty and exploitation. Fidel’s movement was at first given the green light by the CIA, who wished to see Batista and the Mafiosi overthrown, with Cuba coming closer into the embrace of the US state.

After the Fidelistas by force of arms and the general strike across the island forced Batista to flee to his cousins across in Miami, a provisional government was established and by popular will a socialist system was called for. The Cuban Communist Party, which had played no part in the struggle, was refounded with a starkly radical vision. Cuba could never construct socialism on its own: it was too small, non-industrial, totally dependent on tobacco and sugar, and now the US state was dedicated to its overthrow and threw an iron trade blockade around the island. The Cuban revolution, announced Fidel, is the revolution of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Cuba brought together liberation movements from across Africa, Latin America and Asia, reached new understandings and sparked the popular communist movements of this generation. Cuban forces volunteered en masse for service fighting across the world, and at home made brave attempts at constructing the national health service and education programme, which eliminated illiteracy in a decade. ‘The new man’ was being born and Cuba worked hard to eliminate ‘machismo’ sexist attitudes with armed women’s detachments and popular assemblies of working class women.

Contrasted to the chilling poverty and ill health of the rest of Latin America Cuba was a shining light. For the leaders of the Black Panther Party Cuba was black power! Two thirds of the population were black - they were not being lynched, they were not being disenfranchised or beaten with billy clubs or shot down in the streets. The life expectancy and health standards of black people in Cuba contrasted starkly with the poor life, ill health and gross poverty of black people living in the USA.

The US state moved to the final confrontation with socialist ideas - multiple assassination attempts on Fidel, sabotage, counterrevolutionary guerrillas parachuted into the mountains and a seaborne invasion (the Bay of Pigs) - all of which ended in disasters for the USA and their Mafia backers. In 1962 we came the closest yet to all-out nuclear war, and people of my generation (I was 14) trembled at the prospect. Fidel would have gone all the way, but comrade Khrushchev perhaps sensibly blinked first and withdrew the missiles, and the Soviet fleet turned round.

Despite the vision, and the passion and the super-human commitment of the Cuban people, and the almost love affair with the youth of the world, who saw Cuba as our revolution - not a revolution of grey men, in great coats in furry hats and sour faces, but of music, and tee-shirts, long hair, beards, drums and cigars - of what we thought was a free socialism and real and sincere attempt at winning the communist world revolution. Despite all that, Cuba lived by the generosity of Russian state aid and subsidies. Its attempts at industrialisation and self-sufficiency failed. Cuba, for all the slogans and flags and music, was not a workers’ democracy - it was a party and presidential dictatorship.

In the opening days and years of the revolution political factions and tendencies were tolerated, the Trotskyist Revolutionary Workers Party ran a legal paper and had an open address until the late 60s and then went through a series of repressions. The Anarchist Syndicalist union had been popular in Havana and some small cities and it campaigned for real workers’ control until the axe came down. Some were jailed, some disappeared, many fled.

Morality in Cuba was in line with the prevailing trends of youth in the 60s around the world and sensible attitudes prevailed toward sex and teenagers - although contraception was not freely available, so far as I could tell (I worked there as a volunteer in construction). Homosexuality had not been illegal - until ironically support from the crumbling ‘Soviet Union’ started to dry up and they looked to China. China made the quid quo pro for assistance the imposition of repressive sexual codes. The age of sexual consent was raised to three years older than the rest of Latin America and homosexuality for the first time became illegal.

After the collapse of the USSR Cuba tried to adapt, moving toward tourism as a major source of foreign currency. Some small-scale capitalism was allowed - Fidel hated this imposition, which had been forced upon him. Now, with the dollar economy the way in which labour was undertaken started to shift. Why should workers volunteer to work extra shifts for no money to build the country, while waiters and bar staff were earning more money in tips than surgeons earned in the hospitals and engineers earned in the oil field or copper mine?

As Fidel declined in health and the revolutionary vision became distorted, different voices began to emerge. Raul Castro is a pragmatic man, let us say - anyone who has read my book The wheel’s still in spin will know he and I had severe crossed political words, to the extent I feared I would never be allowed back into the country (a mistaken fear, I am pleased to say, as me and my family love the country and the people).

When I’ve spoken to Cuban people more recently, I’ve had the same sort of feedback I was getting near the end of the 1984-85 strike from diehard miners here: ‘It had been worth a go, worth risking all for, but we had fought to a standstill.’ They needed change, although the bottom-line non-negotiable items were: (a) independence - they do not wish to be part of the USA or a puppet state; (b) their free public healthcare system; (c) free public education. Anything else is open for at least discussion - though I doubt anyone in the streets of Havana will be waiting for the Mafia to return.

So farewell comrade Fidel, a brave and sincere revolutionary who held out, as the tide of world revolution changed and the multinational imperialism of the west returned to dominate us all, despite brave attempts to dint it in Venezuela, Peru and elsewhere. As I say in my book, the wheel was indeed still in spin, but it didn’t stop in the high-tide years of the 60s and 70s, when the revolution was pushing all before it. It spun on and arrived further back than we had been in the 50s.

Where will the next vision come from? Which new flashpoint? Which new, brave attempt at constructing a different way of living, with humanitarian, egalitarian and communist values?

I don’t know, but what I do know is it will turn again - and next time we must learn the lessons. Revolutions must always belong to the people themselves. Authority and control must stay with the people - even the most colourful and charismatic leader must never be allowed to usurp that principle.

David Douglass
South Shields


Jack Conrad clarifies that he did not mean that the Second International made Lenin’s distinction between socialism and communism, but that they still made a distinction between them (Letters, November 24). Obviously they did not think that full, free access according to needs could be introduced immediately capitalism was abolished, but Jack’s assertion is still dubious.

I call as witness someone else in the Leninist tradition - a certain T Oizerman, who wrote the preface to the publication in 1971 by Progress Publishers, Moscow, to extracts from August Bebel’s Women and socialism under the title Society of the future:

“The reader should, however, keep in mind that Bebel and the majority of social democrats in the latter half of the 19th century did not differentiate between the two stages of communist society - the lower and the higher. Speaking of socialism, Bebel refers mainly to the higher stage - to communism. That is why he maintains that in the new society class distinctions and the state will have disappeared, money and trade been abolished, the productive forces will have reached such a high level that the working day will last only three to four hours, and all peoples will live together in one fraternal family, while weapons will be exhibits in museums.”

Lenin himself, in an article on ‘Karl Marx’ that he wrote for an encyclopaedia in 1914, used the word ‘socialism’ in the same way, writing: “... by leading to the abolition of classes, socialism will therefore lead to the abolition of the state as well” and distinguishing it from “the period of the expropriation of the expropriators”, during which small-scale peasants producing for the market would continue to exist. See www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1914/granat/ch04.htm.

Adam Buick


Phil Sharpe says he is not concerned with providing the “latest version of what Marx said about a socialist economy”, but with promoting an “alternative conception of market socialism” (Letters, November 24).

Nevertheless, he asserts that his approach is still a Marxist one, since it is still predicated on a strategy of “class struggle” to bring about the realisation of this alternative. Adherence to a revolutionary approach based on class struggle, he says, is “crucial when defining a person as a Marxist”.

I think this is all very muddled. Let me again reiterate that I am not particularly concerned with the etymological aspect of the terms employed here. For me it’s not the brand name or label on the bottle that matters, but what is in the bottle itself - its contents. From a Marxist perspective, or at least from the perspective of Marx, what Phil calls “market socialism” is not an alternative to capitalism, but a form of capitalism. It exhibits all of the primary generic features of what constitutes, for Marx, a capitalist economy - above all, generalised wage labour.

This is important to understand because the clear implication behind Phil’s reasoning is that the realisation of “market socialism” represents some kind of fundamental break with market capitalism. But from a Marxist perspective it represents nothing of the sort. Rather it represents the continuation of capitalism in another form. If I am right in saying this, then it follows there can be nothing ‘revolutionary’ about the realisation of market socialism. A ‘revolution’, in Marxist terms, constitutes a fundamental change in the economic basis of society.

Certainly a strategy of “class struggle” is required to effect such a change, but on this point we need to recognise the crucial distinction that Marx made between a class in itself and a class for -itself. A genuine socialist revolution can only be the act of a class for itself seeking to completely abolish its own exploited status as a class in itself. That can only mean a majority of workers who understand what a classless socialist society entails and want to make it reality.

The class for itself arises out of the class in itself. It is the culmination of a process of political clarification arriving at the point where the revolutionary transformation of society from capitalism to socialism is identified as an objective embodying the interests of workers generally. Class struggle does not commence once that point has been reached - only revolutionary class struggle. It is totally possible for class struggle to occur without this taking a revolutionary form. For Marxists, class struggle in its revolutionary form is the emergent and conscious expression of an objectively grounded and pre-existing struggle of the class in itself but not yet for itself.

This is precisely how I would look at Phil’s supposed “revolutionary approach” to inaugurating “market socialism”. It is not revolutionary at all and its horizons are limited to those of a class in itself, but not yet a class for itself. Indeed it takes for granted the continued existence of an exploited class in itself. It does not seek to put an end to the system of generalised wage labour - what Marx called capitalism - but to perpetuate it in a more sanitised and convivial form.

Phil chastises the Socialist Party of Great Britain for not supporting in 1917 a “genuine proletarian revolution, which was based on the role of the popular organisations of the soviets”. I am reminded here of that great Marx quote:

“If the proletariat destroys the political rule of the bourgeoisie, that will only be a temporary victory, only an element in the service of the bourgeois revolution itself, as in 1794, so long as in the course of history, in its movement, the material conditions are not yet created which make necessary the abolition of the bourgeois mode of production and thus the definitive overthrow of bourgeois political rule” (‘Moralising criticism and critical morality’, 1847).

This could very well sum up the “Bolshevik revolution” itself. Capitalism of a sort, of course, existed in Russia prior to the Bolshevik takeover. However, the Russian economy was a dualistic one, in which a comparatively small capitalistic, industrial-urban sector coexisted with a much larger, pre-capitalist, peasant-based agricultural sector. The function of the Bolsheviks was the quintessentially bourgeois one of facilitating a process of primitive accumulation along state-capitalist lines and the removal of pre-capitalist impediments to Russia’s own capitalist development.

None of this seems to register with Phil. He still seems to naively think that the period of so-called ‘war communism’ was actually an attempt to transcend the market and - quite absurdly - contends that “the contemporary relevance of the New Economic Policy is that it represents a recognition that socialism can only be realised” by rejecting compulsion and embracing market incentives. What about the compulsion that lies at the very heart of a system of generalised wage labour, Phil - the fact that workers are left with no other alternative than to sell their working abilities to an employer and to submit to the whims of that most conspicuously authoritarian of institutions, the capitalist business firm?

Ironically, this was the whole point behind the Bolshevik policy of primitive accumulation and the destruction of an independent peasantry. Forced grain requisitions and market incentives were but two sides of the same capitalist coin. They were the stick and the carrot of a Bolshevik strategy to aid and assist the penetration of capitalist relations of production in Russia, based on generalised wage labour.

As for the workers themselves and notwithstanding that they brought the Bolsheviks to power, their deeds and their outlook were not those of a class for itself, but still those of a class in itself. Their preoccupations were much the same as those of non-revolutionary workers everywhere - job security, wage levels and so on. However, their hopes for a better future under the Bolsheviks would be dashed when the latter soon enough revealed its real intent. One-man management, scientific Taylorism, the crushing of independent trade unions, and Trotsky’s brutal “militarisation of labour” programme were all the expression of a state-capitalist regime intent upon consolidating capitalism.

As such they present merely an alternative and less palatable route to achieving the same unpalatable goal that Phil himself upholds.

Robin Cox

Not locusts

I have previously explained that war communism was a response to conditions outside the control of the Bolsheviks and not a purposefully designed policy to abolish the market, which was claimed.

Phil misattributed my remark that he was resorting to a spurious human nature argument to Adam Buick. Phil stated: “This approach is a recipe for people to quickly take goods beyond their own needs.” He avoids answering the crucial question - why take more than you need, when you can freely take what you need? He cannot just simply project into a socialist society the same kind of behavioural patterns that underlie this dog-eat-dog capitalist society, including its atomised, individualistic way of looking at things. This criticism fails because it takes no account of the fundamentally different sociological framework within which a socialist society will operate.

If people decide that they individually and as a society need to overconsume, then socialism cannot possibly work. If people cannot change their behaviour and take control and responsibility for their decisions, socialism will fail. To establish socialism the majority must want socialism and Phil is correct when he says, “only the strategy of class struggle will bring about the realisation of an alternative to capitalism”.

So is it credible that, having engaged in this collective action and sacrificed for it, people will then seek to sabotage their accomplishment by reverting back to individual interests? The stronger the movement towards socialism grows, the more it subverts the prevailing capitalist ethos. So surely it is reasonable to suppose that the desire for socialism and the understanding of what it entails would influence the way people behaved in socialism. So why would they seek to jeopardise the new society they had just helped create?

The world today is full of institutions that promote greed and self-centeredness. The messages all around foster anti-social attitudes. Equally, wouldn’t a sense of mutual obligations profoundly influence people in socialism? After all, socialism will not require great changes in the way we behave - essentially only the accentuation of some of the behaviours which people express now (friendliness, helpfulness, cooperation) at the expense of those more negative ones which capitalism encourages. Our demands are not insatiable. They are conditioned by the society we live in and in a socialist society much of what we falsely consider to be essential to our well-being - the pursuit of status via conspicuous consumption - will be rendered totally meaningless. In socialism, the only way to gain the respect of your fellows is through your contribution to society and not what you take out of it. Nobody should underestimate the potency of this.

It is long overdue to reassert the vision of higher communism as the explicit goal of revolutionaries everywhere and we should not be advocating questionable stop-gap measures such as “market-socialism” that have long been rendered obsolete by technological development. We should be hell-bent on getting the real thing and critics such as Phil need to fundamentally reassess the assumptions upon which they base their criticisms. Phil is legitimising Hardin’s “tragedy of the commons” that says, if people have access to free things, they’ll act like locusts.

Alan Johnstone


Just as we socialists were beginning to succeed in our fight back against the messages and consequences of the post-truth age, along comes the pro-ignorance new world order of Trumpism trying to nail us to the floor once again.

Actually, these are not just shaping up as new times of pro-ignorance, but also for establishing an actively promoted ‘retro-primitivism’, in the sense that a rejection of scientific and medical knowledge is going to be a central plank of Trump’s plans and policies - (such as that connected to global warming or a woman’s fundamental right to control her own body.)

To say the very least, how paradoxical or ironic that we now have this USA-originated primitivism ranged against the Middle Eastern and fundamentalist Islamic equivalent. Talk about pissing away any moral high ground - in precisely the same manner as Israel pissed away the moral high ground of international Jewry in relation to Nazism and their beyond dreadful holocaust.

So Trumpism equals pro-ignorance plus retro-primitivism - just as in those dark and religiosity-saturated centuries before humanity’s fabulous enlightenment, when liberating revelations brought by scientific understanding and investigation were treated with equivalently ridiculous hostility and the same kind of perniciously self-serving contempt.

As far as the conventional capitalist elites, the established bourgeoisie, the self-styled intelligentsia and their various media outlets are concerned, all of this Trumpist stuff is nothing less than a feral and horribly smelly cat amongst those delicately perfumed but now seriously flustered pigeons.

Bruno Kretzschmar

Blanket ban

Recently, shadow business secretary Clive Lewis said that only those who are members of a trade union should be able to migrate to the UK. He needs to clarify that those immigrants should be members of a British trade union, not members of a foreign trade union operating in a country where wages are markedly lower.

Last year, I wrote that the left should call on a blanket ban on all employers from hiring ‘unskilled’, non-permanent residents (whether or not they become permanent later on, as immigration applicants are not such during their applications). The onus would be on employers, not on unskilled immigrants.

With this recent opposition suggestion, I should double down on my stance: the left should also call on a blanket ban on all employers from hiring ‘skilled’, non-permanent residents, unless the latter have become members of a domestic trade union. This goes right back to immigration-concerned foundation of the International Workingmen’s Association.

Nick Tan