All must go
How can Marxists fight for socialism during and after the present UK elections?
As Jack Conrad remarks correctly, the leadership of the Labour Party is “neither reformist nor sub-reformist” (‘What happens after June 8?’, May 11). Bourgeois politics rejects all notions of reforms with socialism as the goal. The ruling class will only tolerate ‘socialism’ if it refers to a means of establishing bureaucratic conditions for the continued accumulation of capital. Thus nationalisation, a welfare state, social security, social housing, the cooption of trade unions and full employment have all been accepted as partial means to an end. This is the management of the reproduction of labour-power required for the extraction of surplus value. Despite policies that reinforce the operation of commodity fetishism and the industrial reserve army of labour, bureaucratic measures of control have proven to be necessary aspects of a declining capitalism.
Thus the leadership of the Labour Party believe that taxing businesses and the rich will be a popular reform if it makes the management of capitalism more efficient. State support for small businesses, expenditure on the infrastructure and raising the minimum wage are means of stimulating demand during a depression. These stimuli will, it is argued, lead to growth. All parties are agreed that reforms are needed to create stable conditions for a recovery from the crisis. The previous gains to capital of austerity will not be lost if continued measures are halted and reversed.
A surprise Labour victory, however unlikely, is not inconceivable. The Tories are well aware of this. Thus Tory propaganda emphasises the chaotic nature of a Labour or coalition victory. Labour could win if the party turns this argument around. Labour could emphasise the political and economic chaos caused by the Tories and the previous coalition. Brexit is, of course, a good example of this. Brexit jeopardises the interests of British and European finance capital, threatens to destabilise the global operation of the industrial reserve army of labour and accelerates the disintegration of Britain. Austerity is another example of Tory chaos. Tory barbarism, stupidity and ignorance are responsible for this. By presenting itself as the party of stability, growth and rationality during a national and global crisis, Labour could win over an influential section of the ruling class and its attendant intelligentsia.
In these circumstances, the fight for socialism cannot wait until after the election. It involves posing a clear distinction between the top-down managerial goals of bourgeois political parties and the emancipatory goals of the overthrow of capitalism from below. Marxists aim for nothing less in the present than the establishment of a classless society worldwide, democratic planning and free individuality. Whether active inside or outside bourgeois political parties, Marxists can differentiate themselves from, and continue to expose the influence of, Stalinists, nationalists and Labourists. They can do this through their education and propaganda.
In Scotland, the pressures on Marxists to hide behind Keynesian policies informing both nationalism and Labourism are best countered through education programmes targeted at class-conscious workers. For some time now, Marxists in Scotland have organised meetings to discuss the nature of capitalism, crises, socialism, imperialism, reform or revolution, Stalinism and the nature of proletarian power. Marxists can follow the same path in England and other parts of the UK.
It is, of course, just as important to challenge the nationalist consciousness of Labourism on the working class of England as it is on the working class in Scotland, Ireland and Wales. The commitments to nuclear weapons and to controls over immigration are proof of the continued imperialist nature of the Labour Party in Britain as a whole - not only in England, but in Scotland, where some members argue for an electoral alliance with the Tories against the Scottish National Party.
The period leading up to a national election is a fruitful time for Marxists. As well as engaging politically with their comrades, friends and allies, they can ask electoral candidates their thinking on capitalism and its socialist alternative. Do candidates think that capitalism is an exploitative system? Do they recognise socialism as a non-utopian alternative? Do they think socialism is possible? If candidates give positive answers, Marxists can ask them how they think socialism can be achieved. For example, do candidates support demands for full employment; a shorter working week; free social housing, public transport, education, health and social care? Do they support workers’ election and instant recall of managers? Do they support the abolition of the monarchy and the House of Lords? Are they opposed to immigration controls?
If they answer these questions in the negative, can Marxists justify voting for them? Jack Conrad argues that there is no contradiction between voting for rightwing candidates if there is the chance of deselecting them after the election. He takes the example of the British Labour Party. However, the idea could also be applied to Marxists who believe the SNP can be moved further to the left. The optimistic assumption is that, after the election and regardless of its outcome, the left will be in a stronger position than the right. It assumes a consensus that electoral defeat is the responsibility of the right (and a victory that of the left). This may be true. However, it ignores the possibility that leaders can blame disunity and disloyalty of both left and right for defeat. In which case calls for deselection could be characterised as divisive and disruptive.
To avoid demoralisation, isolation and exclusion, Marxists might then be drawn to developing class-consciousness amongst workers, with no illusions in bourgeois political parties. At the last UK election in 2015, 34% of those eligible (approximately 16 million people) refused to vote. Many people already think that the choice between bourgeois political parties is comparable to a choice between measles, mumps or chickenpox - in other words, no choice at all. As a means of creating the conditions for a movement for proletarian collectivity and democracy, the left may consider adopting the slogans, ‘Bourgeois political parties - they all must go!’ and ‘For Marxist political parties now!’
Paul B Smith
Along the lines of that classic joke about a horse going into a pub and ordering a drink, with the bartender then enquiring: “So, buddy, why the long face?”, I’m tempted to direct the same question to James Marshall (‘Aim to be a party of extreme opposition’, May 18).
A horse is a horse and, needless to say, cannot do anything either to alter or negate that simple but fundamental fact. Equivalently, an ideologically pure and pristine - aka a ‘correct’ - Marxist perspective is also just that. What I’m trying to convey is as follows.
Corbynist Labour is proving itself to be a cascade of sordid reformist compromise bordering upon tragic bullshit. So what? We expected suchlike stuff - nothing less. But why not take advantage of this rare opportunity for clear-cut and certainly accessible, practical and ‘real world’ experience of class conflict - as is being generated for working people by both the specific activities and very existence of Corbynism - with the full-scale engagement and support it warrants? That support and engagement being on an unbendingly super-critical basis, quite obviously.
How else can Marxists develop the consciousness of our working class co-citizens; how will our central principles be introduced into this so-called democratic ‘conversation’? How otherwise can our vital insights, experience, comprehensions and our Marxist-Leninist revolutionary, rather than reformist, purposes be conveyed?
Surely now is not the time for the Weekly Worker/CPGB to present to the world that long and arguably dreary to the point of downright dispiriting face - even if, in distinction, that socio-political demeanour is intended to convey a message of ‘frowning but empathetic’ wisdom.
No, surely now is the time to provide some vibrant and dynamic positivity, in essence some encouragement; even more to the point, it’s time to update and upgrade many of these relevant Marxist-Leninist/Trotskyist core theories of ours. However, modify and adapt - aka modernise - them strictly in Darwinian terms; in other words, so as to take advantage of all new circumstances and fresh realities within our world as it stands.
That being an all-pervasively monetised and über-glossily branded world - of course a capitalist/imperialist world, with seemingly endless and deceptively ‘consequence-free’ baubles and bangles and trinkets enticingly on display. A world where remorseless psychological and even subliminal ‘messaging’ is pumped out to its populations, resulting in nothing short of supersaturation of cynical manipulation. Oh, yes indeed, this world and their system of relentless to the point of demonic propagandistic control, as peddled by a hypocritical, duplicitous, compliant and disgustingly co-conspiratorial mass media - including the so-called ‘entertainment’ industry!
So, in summary, here are my two main points. Firstly, it is on this carefully limited and closely targeted basis (as outlined above) that I will be voting Labour on June 8. Secondly, it’s only with these specific provisos put in place that many comrades will be able to maintain trust and retain faith in the ‘official’ positioning and policies and analyses of the Weekly Worker/CPGB.
Putting things quite a different way, all communists need to get a damned sight more Zen with the massive tasks in hand; we need to get a bit more ‘jiggy’ with the extremely severe challenges we face! As in judo and ju-jitsu, we should learn to utilise or harness the momentum/the committed or chosen direction of travel of the body mass of our enemies, rather than simply bash or bludgeon away. After all, as any surfer or beach lifeguard will tell us, it’s far more sensible to swim through a raging wave rather than bare your chest to its superior power.
So the Socialist Party in England and Wales says that Labour is a capitalist party, but that people should vote for it? And that this is connected to “socialist policies”? Are they for real?
Will the Committee for a Workers’ International sections in Australia and Canada now be saying their Labour parties have mysteriously ceased being capitalist parties and become supportable?
Christchurch, New Zealand
‘A year off without pay’ is not much of an offer. But put together Theresa May’s proposals on workers’ rights and her proposals on housing, and then try and imagine the reaction if Jeremy Corbyn were saying exactly the same thing. As, of course, he has been for years.
Similarly, if May had proposed substantially the leaked Labour manifesto, much of which could indeed have featured in one of her set-piece speeches, then the media outlets that scream hysterically at Corbyn about Venezuela and what have you would have reacted in an entirely different manner. It is possible that May is onto something. Being the other side, while screeching abuse at it, worked for long enough for Tony Blair.
While the most prominent party that does not accept the 2% military spending target as the price of the 0.7% overseas aid target goes into this election with one seat, and is going to come out of it with at least that one, the party that does not accept the 0.7% overseas aid target as the price of the 2% military spending target goes into this election with no seats, and is going to come out of it with no seats.
It is not only because of the different electoral system that the party that wants to go back to Erich Honecker does better in the old East Germany than the party that wants to go back to Margaret Thatcher does in Britain. Indeed, look at how all policies, even those of the UK Independence Party, are now judged by how well they play to ‘traditional Labour voters in the north of England’, who are unquestioningly deemed to be the pure soul and radiant conscience of British politics.
Leaving aside the existence of other traditional Labour supporters, and of other people in the north of England, that exaltation of the moral authority of the people who voted Labour throughout the Thatcher and Major years amounts to defining the debate in terms of the wrongness of the results in 1979, 1983, 1987 and 1992. As much as anything else, that entirely cuts the ground from under the foundations of New Labour. Among very much else besides.
No Muslim, bruv
I was planning to comment on last week’s paper, but we have been overtaken by the terrible tragedy in Manchester. It is a city I love, having lived there for four years. So I want to record my condolences for all the families and friends who are suffering, all who died or are in hospital, and solidarity with all the people of Manchester.
It is important to make a sharp distinction between Muslims and terrorists. Muslims aren’t terrorists and terrorists aren’t Muslims. Of course, terrorists might dress up as Muslims and even pray five times a day. It isn’t fooling me. Neither am I fooled when fascists fire-bomb a mosque and call themselves ‘Christians’. As a young man shouted out during a terror knife attack in London, “You ain’t no Muslim, bruv”.
So we have to be in solidarity with Manchester and with all Muslims, whilst condemning this and all terror attacks on people. It is important to say that these terrorists are like fish that need water to swim in. If we can drain all the water, they are left flapping about on the bottom of the lake. Calling terrorists “Muslims” is like filling up the lake with fresh water.
These terrorists are not Muslims and they aren’t going to heaven. For this reason we need to be in solidarity with all Muslims, who the fascists and the rightwing Tory press are going to target. I would add that Muslims don’t need to start apologising any more than anybody else.
But we cannot duck the question as to why this stupid moron was so filled with hatred as to commit such an inhumane, anti-Muslim act. We all know the answer, even if nobody likes to mention it. It is not an excuse, just a fact of life. The UK has been waging war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria since 2003. Fourteen years later the UK remains in a state of permanent warfare. The UK is dropping massive bombs on Syria and Iraq right now. Some will say that Britain drops bombs humanely, only killing terrorists and not innocent children. If you believe that you will fall for anything.
More tragedies like Manchester are not going to stop until there is peace in the Middle East. At the top of the list are the Palestinians, who are often forgotten. The British bombing of Syria and Iraq is part of the problem, not the solution. So don’t just blame the last Labour and Tory governments, but Labour MPs like ‘bomber Benn’, who made one of the finest speeches on the need for massive bombing in the Middle East that the House of Commons has ever cheered.
Left Unity and Rise
I found veteran Trotskyite Gerry Downing’s recent letters to the Weekly Worker on Lenin’s April thesesabsolutely hilarious.
Downing’s bottom-line arguments are: (1) Lenin and Trotsky were completely opposed to each other for most of the decades before 1917. Yes, that is correct. (2) Trotsky was fundamentally opposed to Bolshevism for much of that period. Yes, that is correct. (3) In April 2017, Lenin abandoned Bolshevism and became a Trotskyite and disciple of Trotsky. Complete and utter bollocks, I’m afraid.
Lenin’s April thesesis an extremely concise and cogent set of arguments and analyses on the situation in Russia immediately following the February revolution, and the next tasks of the revolutionary party and the revolutionary proletariat and peasantry. It is very easy to read and to understand, and will not take any new reader long to do so.
Lenin quotes Mephistopheles in Faust: “Theory, my friend, is grey, but green is the eternal tree of life.” This reminds me of Mario Cuomo saying, “We campaign in poetry, but govern in prose.”
Lenin was analysing the actual, complex, contradictory nature of the class situation, which produced and was thrown up by the February revolution. Given the development of capitalism in Russia and its position within the imperialist world, the February revolution had, on the one hand, failed to completely carry out all of the ‘classic’ tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, but at the same time had gone beyond those limits with the emergence of organs of united proletarian and peasant power.
Lenin described this highly unusual and unstable position as “dual power”. A government (or dictatorship) of the bourgeoisie and landowners, which had failed and would continue to fail to carry out the full bourgeois democratic revolution, leaving many aspects of the monarchy and feudalism intact, on one side. On the other, the emergence of soviet power in some of the industrial heartlands, which Lenin described “as moving close towards a revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry”.
So Lenin was completely consistent in his continued advocacy of a revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry as a means for both leading the bourgeois-democratic revolution and then progressing towards the proletarian revolution. The April theses simply argued the revolutionaries needed to understand the reality that the bourgeois-democratic revolution had to date only been partially completed, alongside a situation where the establishment of proletarian power had already commenced.
Under conditions of imperialism, “the highest phase of capitalism”, which had started to emerge around the turn of the 20th century, where capitalism had started to decay and become decadent, in retrospect, it seems obvious that the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution and the socialist proletarian revolution become incredibly intermeshed and interdependent.
The formulation of the April theses provided the programmatic expression of the tasks needed to both complete the tasks of the bourgeois revolution, but under the leadership of the proletariat and peasantry, and to systematically progress towards socialism.
To simplistically go back to the ‘proletariat and peasantry’ formulation would have failed to recognise that significant elements of this had now been established. To have gone to a ‘pure’ proletarian revolution would have failed to understand (1) the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution had still to be completed and (2) the peasantry constituted the great majority of the population.
Communist programmes of the 21st century combine the fight for the fullest and deepest extension of democracy (the Weekly Worker group uses the term ‘extreme democracy’) with the struggle for socialism, the expropriation of the expropriators. The tasks are not the same, and should neither be falsely separated into stages, nor collapsed into a simplistic advocacy of ‘Socialism is the answer to all our problems’.
After glancing at a few of Gerry Downing’s recent missives on the subject of Lars T Lih’s reading of Lenin and the Bolsheviks (‘All power to the soviets’, May 4), could I just check that Downing actually knows it’s 2017, not 1937, and that he is debating Lars T Lih and not Vyshinsky? And that Downing knows he is - ahem - debating a historian with a different take on things to himself and not conducting his defence in a show trial?
It’s best to clear these things up, otherwise people might get the wrong idea. Or perhaps this is one of those special historical re-enactment projects where, rather than prancing around in fields dressed as Nazis or Roundheads and so on, we all pile into the letters page of the Weekly Worker and pretend to be acting in scenes from the past? If that is the case, I don’t think much of Downing’s Trotsky, although Steve ‘Fluff’ Freeman’s fortnightly re-enactment of the Battle of Flodden on his keyboard is an absolute triumph.
As a firm believer in the Marxist-Leninist cause, I think that one of the key factors to international communism’s success is unity of the world’s populous, indiscriminate of background, race or nationality.
For this reason, when looking into joining the Communist Party of Great Britain I was rather put out as to the beliefs of the party concerning European Union membership. While the EU is clearly not as beneficial to the worker as it could be and by no means a communist organisation, it still implements crucial funding and infrastructural support to its member-states, which are beneficial to all.
Instead of bailing out of the metaphorical sinking ship of the EU, we should have been focused on saving our nation’s membership and turning the EU into something more reflective of our values.
Furthermore, if possible could you explain in further detail the standpoint of the party on this issue, as I found the website entry a little unclear.
I’m off to Italy this summer, so I would really like to get started reading on the history of communism in Italy, particularly its success in the Bologna region after World War II.
Can any of your readers recommend any decent literature to prepare before my trip?