It is right and proper that publications such as the Weekly Worker have devoted time and space to commemorating the centenary of the Russian Revolution of 1917 with articles, translations and polemics regarding the nature of Bolshevism. Not in order to engage in some kind of historical cheer-leading, but rather as a way of coming to terms with the great successes - and, equally, the mistakes and defeats - of our movement in the past.
As workers’ movement partisans look ahead to the new year, 2018 will, of course, bring with it a whole host of other important centenaries in working class history. Perhaps the most significant milestone in this regard will be an event on which the fate of the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 hinged - the German revolution of November 1918.
As the Bolsheviks well knew, Russia was a backward country with an overwhelming peasant majority and thus the continued survival of the revolution there hinged on the European revolution - crucially in the form of the German working class taking power. For without a corresponding revolutionary government in Germany the young soviet republic would be condemned to isolation and inevitable defeat. It was surrounded by a sea of hostile imperialist powers and subject to the overarching economic dictates of the world division of labour.
Not only had the Bolsheviks predicted the German revolution, but their seizure of power also provided important inspiration for it. This should perhaps come of little surprise: revolutionary ideas and lessons were always transmitted across the national boundaries of the international workers’ movement. As recent historiography in particular has underlined, Lenin and the Bolsheviks had always ‘looked west’ (and had lived there in exile for significant parts of their lives) for political and strategic guidance - particularly to the inspiration of the mass Marxist parties of the Second International, to which the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party was itself affiliated.
What is fascinating about the German revolution of November 1918 is that, by this point, the poles have in many senses been reversed, with the Germans, Austrians and others in western Europe seeking to do ‘what the Russians did’. As I have argued elsewhere, and shall explore in more detail in articles and translations in 2018, this attempt to emulate the Bolsheviks did not come without a fair share of confusion, crucial errors and key mistakes.
Ultimately, of course, the German revolution ended in failure and this failure was a crucial factor in the degeneration of the Russian Revolution into the monstrosity of Stalinism. Getting to grips historically with these failures between 1918 and 1923 will be a focus of my own research in the coming period, and this will hopefully find reflection in further articles, translations of German-language source material and much more besides.
There are no ‘conspiracy theories’, whether anti-Zionist or anti-Semitic, in the observation that the ruling class of Israel overlaps with that of the USA and several European imperialist powers.
Unless you hold the view that the Marxist theory of the state is itself a conspiracy theory. Marx’s view was that each capitalist state does not belong to the whole population of a capitalist country, but that the state comprises the executive committee of the capitalists of that country for defence of their interests, both against their own working class and against the capitalists of other countries. The citizenship rights of a capitalist in a given capitalist country, therefore, gives them in effect not only the ‘normal’ rights of citizenship applicable to other classes of the population, but in effect a share of ownership of that capitalist state. The history of inter-capitalist, inter-imperialist wars in Europe, including two world wars, bears this out.
Zionism has introduced a modification of this. The Israeli Law of Return gives citizenship rights to all Jews born in other countries, subject to some conditions that are part religious, part political. This leads to a situation, not on an individual or incidental basis, where a substantial group of bourgeois has citizenship rights - ie, ownership rights - over both the Israeli capitalist state and the US capitalist state or that of some European countries, whichever they are indigenous citizens of, on the basis of their Jewish birth. Therefore, we have overlapping ruling classes between Israel and a number of European and North American capitalist-imperialist states.
Dubbing this theory a ‘conspiracy theory’ therefore amounts to so dubbing the Marxist theory of the state. For this understanding is simply the application of Marx’s theory of the state to an updated set of factual data, including the existence of the Israeli Law of Return and the known fact that the section of the American and European bourgeoisies that are Jewish is far higher, percentage wise, than the percentage of Jews in the general population of these states. This part of the bourgeoisie is substantial, and in North America particularly, quite formidable in size and social power, derived from property.
In proscribing this theory, Labour Against the Witchhunt has not proscribed any conspiracy theory, whether anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic or of any other kind. In fact, it has not proscribed any special theory at all. For this is not a special theory. It is simply Marx’s theory of the state applied to the data available today.
Therefore, in proscribing this theory, LAW has proscribed the Marxist theory of the state. It has therefore proscribed one of the core elements of Marxism. The Jewish communalism and chauvinism of some of its leaders, combined with the guilty liberalism of others, has driven it to adopt the kind of anti-communist exclusion clause that the left should be fighting to abolish in the labour movement as a whole.
That is a savage paradox.
For the past few years, Tony Clark has been informing readers of the Weekly Worker of his journey away from Marxism. In the last issue, for instance, Clark pontificates that: “I have argued that Marxism contains flaws - some of them are quite serious and are of a fundamental nature” (Letters, January 11). Unfortunately, the great man neglects to tell us poor deluded Marxists what these flaws are.
Clark does, however, chastise Marx for failing to realise, as Clark does, that “there is no permanent crisis of capitalism”. It is fortuitous that Marx did not theorise a “permanent crisis” because such a ‘theory’ would be nonsense. A crisis is the culmination of a combination of circumstances, where things reach an intense turning point, such that things cannot carry on as before. To talk of a “permanent crisis” is to totally misunderstand the concept.
It is about time, regarding the veracity of Marxism, that Tony Clark either put up or shut up!
With reference to the letter from David John Douglass - blimey, how many wrong ends of how many separate sticks can one comrade grasp at a single point in time, I ask myself (January 11)?
All accompanied by the trundling out of that tired old nonsense about pukka “northern” working class citizens being abused by soft-handed and soft-headed southern liberals (or, otherwise, by somehow ‘uniquely’ exploitative southerner elites).
Yes, all tired old head-banging baloney, but also disgracefully divisive and destructive stuff. Most notably, by way of anything it offered in place of a sparkling unity of horizons, in the glaring absence of any proposals for adventurously inspirational or genuinely consciousness-raising action.
Probably the kindest thing to be said is: ‘Good luck with your ambitions of turning Labour into a genuinely socialist element within society, comrade.’ Certainly, going by past evidence of similar escapades, this latest version is going to need all the luck it can rustle up.
Anyway, sorry I can’t spend more time on this cosy little chat. I and other like-minded disobedients have got a truly humongous party to organise. It’s one dedicated to the development of what might best be summarised as ‘eco-communism’. That being not only a force rooted firmly within the soil of Marxism-Leninism, as well as Trotskyism, but also a beautifully modern-world entity. One designed primarily for the overthrow of capitalism, it goes without emphasising, and as a direct corollary also for the elimination of all associated imperialist barbarisms.
A bit of a challenge, as readily we admit. You know, what with the torrent of lies, phony narratives and black agendas being pumped out so relentlessly and so ruthlessly by the ruling class and a multiplicity of their agencies. But, hey, we ‘freshly-evolved’ eco-communists are confident we’ll achieve our objectives in the long run.
That’s assuming we manage to retain the necessary patience and are granted the benefit of a fair wind. I say those two things in light of Lenin’s wise words that “patience is the essential ingredient for any revolutionary”; in harness with our awareness that other really quite powerful forces are often at work in our cosmos.
If I were allowed to offer a helpful as well as comradely summary, I’d say this: surely, we are all mere fragments of stone? Some day, those fragments might become mosaic flooring within a People’s Palace of Universal Communism - one yet to be built. Sadly, however, one to be built by other pioneer craftsmen, rather than any of the current organisations or operatives who lay claim to that self-same ‘magnificent destiny’.
It’s a new year and, if South Africa is to have any real hope for a better future, the country probably needs to see the beginnings of at least some radical transformation of our present economic, political and social environment. And that will require sound information and cogent analysis to enable all citizens to play a responsible part.
This, in the first place, requires a media as free as possible of coercion and manipulation; a media that can be relied upon to provide sound, honest information. It should also be an environment in which whistleblowing on corruption or any malfeasance is wholly protected.
Never, in our globalised world, have these requirements seemed so important and yet so much under threat. There is the twittering lunacy of Donald Trump, who, very worryingly, has a nuclear arsenal at his disposal, facing the infantile bellicosity of a now nuclear-armed Kim Jung Un. The multiple refugee crises are also continuing, accompanied by reports of barbarism, inhumanity and savagery, with details of everything from slave markets to torture, aerial bombardment and “ethnic cleansing” - that common euphemism for genocide.
On the domestic front history also seems likely to repeat itself along all too familiar lines: rhetoric about renewal peppered with promises of turnarounds, improvements and better lives for all providing a flimsy veil for what seems likely to be, at best, more of the same, but perhaps a bit worse. Not the least of this may be another raid on the pockets, particularly of the poor, through a probable hike in value added tax.
One reason that such a move is almost certain to become necessary is the apparently off-the-cuff promise by president Jacob Zuma of freedom from fees for most tertiary students. As a result, the Economic Freedom Fighters’ “student command” seized the opportunity to cause possible chaos next week at universities around the country by telling all qualifying matriculants to turn up at any university of their choice and demand to be registered.
This at a time when the governing ANC remains in a general state of turmoil behind a wall of words proclaiming unity; a stonewall clearly in evidence at the January 8 106th birthday rally in East London. Meanwhile, the tensions, fragmentation and financial problems within the trade union movement also show no signs of abating.
That we are aware of such facts and analysis and are able to debate them is because South Africa still enjoys - for all the faults and manipulation that exists - a relatively honest and free media. And the fact that we have available such news and analysis is the work of media workers, of journalists, who act as the eyes and ears of the pubic at large.
In this, South Africans are fortunate, although attacks on journalists and on whistleblowers are increasing. But the country is a long way from the situation in states such as Turkey, Mexico, China, Syria and Ukraine. As the new year began, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) confirmed that 2017 was “the worst year on record for jailed journalists”.
Exactly how many journalists were detained “in connection with the provision of news and information”, and how many have been murdered for that reason, is difficult to assess accurately. CPJ was able to trace and confirm that 262 journalists were in prison at the end of last year. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) lists 326, although this number includes 107 “citizen journalists” - individuals using social media and blogs usually in situations where other avenues are closed.
Both organisations ascertained that 17 journalists were murdered because of the work they were doing. But there are also a number of journalists missing or held hostage by armed groups.
And it is not only in authoritarian states that journalism is under threat. As RSF states in its end-of-year message, “Media freedom is proving to be increasingly fragile in democracies as well. Democratic governments are trampling on a freedom that should, in principle, be one of their leading performance indicators.”
But the protection of democratic rights that exist, let alone their possible extension, requires more than sound information and analysis: it needs organisation. And it is here that the trade unions have a potentially vital role to play - but only if they are independent, democratic in their organisation, truly accountable to their members and transparent in everything they do.
Unfortunately, this is seldom the case. Yet, without the democratically organised power of workers, democratic norms - and the right to know - can rapidly be smothered.
However, within the labour movement, there often exists considerable animosity toward journalists and - sometimes with justification - the media in general. This is usually promoted by union leaders or factions within the movement with something to hide or agendas to push. Propagandists posing as journalists and the deliberate distortion of facts at editorial level also encourage this animosity.
It is here that workers, inside and outside the media, have crucial roles to play in helping to expose - and agitate against - purveyors of fake news and editorial distortion. Open and transparent debate should be the aim.
My hope for 2018 is that something along these lines will start to emerge in the coming months; that we will not see the reinvention yet again of another old wheel when the opportunity and ability exists to fly above the mire, into which we seem to be sinking.