For sale

Ian Donovan bases his argument about international Jewish power on the claim that: “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 … 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” (Letters, January 18).

Ian’s paraphrase of Israel’s Law of Return is inaccurate. This discriminatory law does not actually “give citizenship rights” to all Jews. It gives them the right toimmigrate to Israel and become its citizens. Does this make all the world’s Jewish capitalists part of the Israeli ruling class? Well, by the same logic you could claim that all sufficiently rich persons around the world, Jewish or gentile, are part of the EU ruling class, because any one of them can easily and legally buy Cypriot citizenship for the paltry sum of £1.5 million; Bulgarian citizenship is cheaper, at £448,443; and becoming a Maltese citizen is dirt-cheap at £131,521 - easily affordable to most members of the international bourgeoisie. If they don’t fancy the Mediterranean, they can buy, for a relatively modest sum, citizenship of a Caribbean paradise island. These passports are officially for sale. Unofficially, a sufficiently rich person can become a citizen of almost any country s/he fancies.

In fact, perhaps it is correct to say that the capitalist ruling class, irrespective of religion, is international.

Moshé Machover

Straw men

My thanks to Paul Demarty for his swift and detailed reply (‘Foundations in sand’, January 18) to my ‘Understanding poststructuralism’ (January 11).

Granted, he provides erudite statements about specific aspects of poststructuralism. But he also lapses into sophistry in places and ends up waffling on about Marx’s essentialism, which he doesn’t understand. He also likes to set up straw men, which are easier to knock down. Therefore, he fails to counter my argument effectively. In short, his article lacks cohesion and in this sense it is a mirror of poststructuralism itself! So who has built their argument on “foundations in sand”: Demarty or myself?

Paul distorts my position from the outset: I did not argue that “poststructuralism [is] purely a reaction to Stalinism”. In fact I said that “things develop dialectically; there is no clean-cut cause and effect … poststructuralism was not a direct consequence of 1968 (that would be crude reductivism). Rather the defeat of the latter gave it a huge leg-up in the intellectual stakes ... [whereas] anti-foundationalist ideas … had been simmering away for a long time, waiting for its opportunity to come to the fore.”

He also misunderstands my point that structuralism is a “western philosophical offshoot” of “Stalinist diamat”, epitomised by the work of Althusser. He should have realised that I was referring to the “anti-humanist, determinist” character of Althusser’s writing, not its actual antecedents - although his ideas are compatible with the former.

Regarding the question of Maoism, Paul concedes that it is “a variant of Stalinism”, but then he goes on to point out its contradictory nature in relation to the latter (comparethe idea of teenage offspring, who kick against their parents before adopting their values once they become adults themselves): “[Dunn] excoriates Stalinism for selling out in May 1968; but the Maoists were on the streets.” This is true. But what happened to these groups, once Nixon had made his historic rapprochement with Mao in 1970?

Like its Stalinist parent, Maoism also saw the need for peaceful coexistence with imperialism, given that it was essentially a national liberation movement. Therefore, as long as it was thwarted by the Soviet Union, it paid lip service to Marxism and internationalism. But, once Mao had made an opportunistic alliance with imperialism, these groups disintegrated, popping up in new incarnations, such as third-wave feminism, and so on. At least their counterparts based themselves on Trotsky’s theoretical critique of Stalinism: ie, bureaucratic centralism on the one side, and socialism in one country on the other. (The fact that the latter also disintegrated is another question, which dogs every Marxist grouplet today. To put it simply, if you aren’t able grow your organisation, you could end up as a sect, based on the dictatorship of the leadership, etc.)

On the basis of his reply, I’m not sure if Paul understands the difference between anti-foundationalism and foundationalism. The former is characterised by the absence of a systematic approach to philosophy, which is the antithesis of the latter. As Trotsky writes in Philosophical tendencies of bureaucratism (1928), “Engels felt that it was the merit of Marx that he revived and defended dialectics at a time of epigonism in philosophy and of narrow empiricism in the positive sciences ... Marx was able to do this by freeing dialectics from idealist captivity … The second most important component of Marxism is historical materialism: that is, the application of materialist dialectics to the structure of human society and its historical development.” Compare Nietzschean subjectivism or the revolt against ‘oppressive reason’, which is revived by what Paul calls the “decadent-nihilist; the most anti-rationalist wing of the phenomenologists”.

He goes on to ask why this - along with “the ultra-systemic nostrums of structuralism - have proven such an intellectually combustible mixture?” He says I have no answer to this question. Therefore, he overlooks what I said in the conclusion to my article: “Wittgenstein and Heidegger, as the forerunners of anti-foundationalism and modern hermeneutics, both were working independently of the Marxist tradition … ie, within the sphere of speculative philosophy … Post-1968, their ideas gained currency among the founders of poststructuralism (eg, the work of Derrida, Foucault and Lyotard).” In other words, philosophy entered a new period of epigonism, from which it has yet to recover.

But, when Paul tries to tackle the question of Marx’s essentialism, he starts to waffle. This is demonstrated when he turns his attention to human nature and the question of gender. Clearly, here he confuses the biological basis of sex or gender, which is determined by the arrangement of chromosomes after fertilisation (excluding a congenital mix-up, which affects only a tiny minority of humans), with sexuality, which is a social construct. However, the latter has its limits: human sexuality, in whatever form, cannot overturn the chromosome arrangement which one is born with, despite advances in medical technology. Hence, when I discussed the question of transgender, I posed the question: “How far can we push nature’s envelope?” We have to distinguish between what is natural and what is artificial and how far we want to take the latter - whether this is a good thing or not.

Therefore, it is disingenuous of Paul to drag the Nazis and the Catholic church into my argument. This has nothing to do with the “degeneration in the racial stock”; likewise vis-à-vis the church, which argues that transgender is a rejection of “the natural law created by god”. But there are still natural laws, such as the biological basis of sex and gender. We defy them at our peril (the notion of man as homo deus springs to mind). This is not Marx’s view, which is based on the need to establish a harmony between the natural laws, which govern human nature, and external nature. But first we have to establish the material basis for “the development of human power, which is its own end, the true realm of freedom”. This is ‘the telos’ of man as a ‘species being’. But of course, there is no guiding intelligence; there are no short cuts.

Paul correctly points out that social revolutions are usually accompanied by “bizarre literary trends”. He quotes Trotsky’s Literature and revolution (1922), firstly in a positive sense. By implication, he compares Trotsky’s critique of the Russian formalists and Proletcult to poststructuralism. But, unlike the former, which was crushed by the rising bureaucracy, the latter “conquered the literary academy in the 1970s and 1980s as a result of successive political reversals against the Marxist left”. But now Paul errs on the side of formalism, as opposed to Marxism - ie, his thinking is ahistorical.

On the one hand, the October revolution led to a new flowering of the Russian avant garde (at least until the late 1920s). On the other, the formalists and Proletcult disagreed violently with Trotsky’s Marxist critique of their position, precisely because they believed that revolutionary art could play a direct role in socialist construction. (Trotsky argues that the proletariat had first to be educated in the art of the past, before it could develop a new culture, which in any case would be socialist, not proletarian, in character. But that would take more than one generation, providing that the revolution was successful, etc.)

In contrast poststructuralism and its claims to a new ‘postmodern’ epoch of art, based on the new technologies of mass reproducibility, do not see the need for another revolution at all. But then Paul attacks Trotsky, because he claims that, in a future communist society, “The average human type will rise to the heights of an Aristotle, a Goethe or a Marx”. For Paul, this is “unforgivably teleological”! Such a view is nothing less than cynical, a denial of Marx’s own vision of communist society - which, as Lifshitz points out in his book, The philosophy of art of Karl Marx (1933), “removes not only the abstract contradiction between ‘work and pleasure’, but also the very real contradiction between feeling and reason”. But this will require the “abolition of classes and the gradual disappearance of the contradiction between physical and spiritual labour”, etc. (Capital volume 3).

Personally, I would rather be with Marx and Trotsky than the epigones. What about you, comrade Demarty?

Rex Dunn

Peak journey

Ted Hankin was right to comment on my “journey away from Marxism” (Letters, January 18), but ignored my destination, which is a democratic socialist society - in opposition to the anti-democratic form of socialism represented by Marxism, which leads to the rule of a bureaucratic ruling caste and the suppression of people’s democratic rights.

This usurpation of bureaucracy is a tendency in modern society, which Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin could do little to defeat because Marxism itself contributes to the bureaucratic takeover. Even Stalin’s and Mao’s anti-bureaucratic drives made little difference. My journey away from Marxism to democratic socialism is not only based on dialectics, but also on a study of both Russian and Chinese political history, as it relates to the struggle for socialism.

I have argued that Marxism contains fundamental flaws and Hankin falsely accuses me of not telling “us poor deluded Marxists” what these flaws are. This claim is untrue and may be due to Hankin’s poor memory, or simply not understanding the essence of the issues I have raised. I have painstakingly explained the most important of the flaws within Marxism in the limited space available in the letters page of the Weekly Worker in relation to Marxist philosophy, history, economics and politics. For anti-dialecticians who believe that Marxism is flawless, nothing I say will make any difference.

At the philosophical level, I have pointed out that Marxism teaches that social being determines consciousness. This is like saying when a person crosses the road the decision was made by his legs rather than his mind. Marxism puts being in the primary position. I would also like to mention that in his book, Materialism and empirio-criticism,Lenin defends the outdated 19th-century Feuerbachian theory that the concept, matter, refers to that which is given to us in sensation. Modern science has long rejected this view and postulates that more than 90% of the matter in the universe is not given to us in sensation. A good example of something not given to us in sensation, for instance, is radio or TV frequencies.

At the historical level, I have explained that, contrary to the Marxist view, it wasn’t the development of the productive forces which triggered the decline of feudalism, but rather the decline of the productive forces. For instance, the depletion of Britain’s forestry and, therefore, source of wood for energy, caused by the little ice age in medieval times. The development of the productive forces simply reinforced the decline of the feudal organisation of labour, but did not trigger it.

At the economic level, I have pointed out that Marxism falsely claims that modern society, industrial capitalism, is the result of the circulation of money. But money existed for thousands of years without leading to capitalism. What led to modern society was not money, but a source of cheap, abundant energy. Marxism is essentially a money theory of how modern capitalism came about. It ignores the real reason: the energy revolution.

Not long ago, Hankin was posing as someone who understood the energy issue. But it is clear that his understanding is at best superficial. Like Marx from the 19th century, Hankin cannot envisage a permanent crisis of capitalism related to the peaking and decline of the era of abundant, cheap energy. Marx was unaware of the primary role of energy. Most of those who base themselves on Marxism - a money-orientated theory about capitalism - have a particular difficulty grasping the idea of a permanent crisis of capitalism related to the decline of oil production. This crisis is temporarily concealed because global oil production is presently at peak or close to it, but after peak comes the decline.

In 2008, we got a glimpse of what’s in store when oil prices reached $147 per barrel and plunged the world economy into recession as subprime mortgage owners had to choose between paying their mortgages or staying on the road. They chose the latter and defaulted on their mortgages. In opposition to Marx, the theory of a permanent crisis of capitalism related to the decline of cheap oil production and ending in socialist renewal is the foundation of my political outlook. Those who oppose the theory of a permanent crisis of capitalism must also concede that ending capitalism becomes at least one hundred times more problematic.

At the political level, I have pointed out that Marxism advocates dictatorship rather than democratic discourse in society. In State and revolution, Lenin defined a Marxist as someone who recognises the dictatorship of the proletariat and he defined dictatorship as rule untrammelled by any law. So anyone who is looking for an explanation of the crimes committed by those under the influence of Marxism must begin with Lenin’s definition of dictatorship, which opens the door to lawlessness and criminal behaviour.

There is a tradition of many on the left to hide behind Trotsky and blame ‘Stalinism’ for all the negative aspects of our history. But the truth is that Marxism destroys civil society and replaces it with a totalitarian polity. This is not simply a ‘Leninist’ characteristic. I have pointed out that the Mensheviks, who claimed to be the orthodox Marxists, walked out of the soviets after Lenin won the majority, thus demonstrating their true attitude to democratic politics.

These are some of the fundamental flaws I have addressed, and which explain my journey away from Marxism to democratic socialism.

In short, if your theory of how modern society came about is based on money rather than energy, you will be unable to grasp the present crisis. The process of dialectics has meant modern scientific development and understanding has come into conflict with some of the fundamental ideas of Marxism, but those who don’t like the message respond by attacking the messenger.

So I say to Ted Hankin, be patient. My document, Democratic socialism and the flaws in Marxism, will come. But I am not going to be rushed.

Tony Clark

Churchill cult

With Gary Oldman’s career-defining portrayal of him in Darkest hour, Winston Churchill is back. In Great contemporaries, published in 1937, two years after he had called Hitler’s achievements “among the most remarkable in the whole history of the world”, Churchill wrote: “Those who have met Herr Hitler face to face in public business or on social terms have found a highly competent, cool, well-informed functionary with an agreeable manner, a disarming smile, and few have been unaffected by a subtle personal magnetism.” That passage was not removed from the book’s reprint in 1941. In May 1940, Churchill had been all ready to give Gibraltar, Malta, Suez, Somaliland, Kenya and Uganda to Mussolini, whom he had called “the greatest living legislator”.

All sorts of things about Churchill are simply ignored: Gallipoli, the miners, the suffragettes. The refusal to bomb the railway lines to Auschwitz. His dishonest and self-serving memoirs. The truth about the catastrophic humiliation at Dunkirk. The other one, at Singapore, for which Australians and New Zealanders have never forgiven Britain. The men left behind in France. Both the fact and the sheer scale of his 1945 defeat, while the war in the far east was still going on, when Labour won half of his newly divided seat, and an independent did very well in the other half after Labour and the Liberals had disgracefully refused to field candidates against him. His deselection by his local Conservative Association just before he died. And, not least, his carve-up of eastern Europe with Stalin, so very reminiscent of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. He borrowed the ‘iron curtain’ phrase from Goebbels and used it to mean exactly what Goebbels had meant by it. Broken by the war, the Soviet Union had neither the means nor the will to invade western Europe - still less to cross either the Atlantic or the Pacific.

But the electorate was under no illusions while he was still alive. His image was booed and hissed when it appeared on newsreels. He led the Conservative Party into three general elections, losing the first two of them, and he only returned to office on the third occasion with the support of the National Liberals, having lost the popular vote. In the course of that parliament, he had to be removed by his own party. It comfortably won the subsequent general election. And we have not forgotten the truth about him in the old mining areas. Nor have they in the places that he signed away to Stalin, including the country for whose freedom the war was fought. It was Churchill who coined the nickname ‘Uncle Joe’ for Stalin.

Churchill wanted to transport the Jews to Palestine, since he saw them as not really British. He presided over the famine in Bengal. His views on race shocked his younger colleagues even in the Conservative Party of the 1950s. The famous dipping of the cranes for his coffin occurred only because the London dockers, who despised him, had been paid to do it. Those dockers had been as heavily blitzed as anyone, anywhere.

As for Churchill’s having ‘saved Britain’, it will be interesting to see whether anyone could continue to hold a serious academic or journalistic position in 10 years time and come out with that one. More than 50 years after having said goodbye to him, we are finally saying goodbye to the cult of Churchill. That cult seems to have begun only once he was dead, or at least so old as to have been politically as good as dead. It never translated into votes.

David Lindsay

UC poverty

Rugby Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition has raised many concerns about universal credit since its introduction in 2011. Now we have found a way of alleviating some of the worst poverty it causes - but Rugby borough council is not prepared to act on it.

We wrote to leading members of the council in October outlining our concerns that benefit claimants in Rugby are not offered ‘nil income forms’ when suffering financial hardship. Councils can offer payments to claimants through these whether or not they are in receipt of benefits. This would particularly help with the hardship those claiming universal credit experience in that period of up to 10 weeks before they receive any benefits, and for any claimants who are sanctioned. We explained that successful completion of a nil income form can lead to claimants receiving income which can be used to prevent rent or council tax arrears, and it can give access to food vouchers and emergency cash payments. This can prevent further debt, evictions and homelessness. We gave examples of two relatively nearby local authorities which do offer such forms.

We received no answers from elected members. However, we did get a reply from David Wortley, community advice and support manager at Rugby council. He maintained that additional support can only be given to claimants once they are in receipt of housing benefit. This, of course, does nothing to help those applying for universal credit, as they do not qualify for housing benefit. This is why so many tenants are falling into rent arrears, with increasing numbers being evicted.

Rugby Tusc responded and said that our concerns had not been addressed in his reply. We asked again for the council to offer nil income forms for UC claimants during those six to 10 weeks they have to wait for any income, including rent. Mr Wortley replied to confirm: “Rugby council does not provide any financial assistance whilst claimants are awaiting a payment of universal credit”, and that discretionary awards will only be considered where housing benefit or the housing element of UC is being paid.

We accept the original fault lies with the Tory government that introduced universal credit to Rugby and five other pilot areas in 2011 - a pilot now being rolled out nationwide. It is part of a scheme to cut £12 billion from the welfare budget, so it suits the Tories for claimants to go into rent arrears and experience extreme poverty with absolutely no income at all.

The situation has clearly worsened with the introduction of UC. It was difficult enough for claimants in receipt of job seekers allowance or employment and support allowance, although they could at least apply for a hardship payment at their local job centre, safe in the knowledge that any award would not have to be repaid. Under UC, however, any hardship payment is then recovered from future benefit payments, thus simply postponing the poverty. Once again, such hardship payments are only made when the benefit is actually being paid, and at a reduced rate, but not whilst applying for it.

It is well documented that homelessness and poverty are increasing in Rugby, and the town has become the fifth highest in the West Midlands for rough sleeping. In the nine months up to September last year, there was a 25% increase in use of the local foodbank. Rugby people have expressed real concern at this suffering. It is no coincidence that, being a pilot area, Rugby has a high number of benefit claimants on UC. That is why we have called on Rugby to help at those critical periods when claimants are applying for universal credit or receive a sanction once on it. The council could do so much more to prevent the inevitable poverty caused by receiving no income for up to 10 weeks.

Hence our continuing plea for them to administer nil income forms immediately and ensure tenants are aware of such support.

Pete McLaren
Rugby Tusc

Like it is

The family of American rock musician Tom Petty have announced he died “accidentally” from multiple organ failure following “overuse of prescription painkillers”. So there we have it: one of the greatest threats to life and wellbeing for US citizens is to pay a visit to their doctor. Putting things another way, if a mass shooting by a ‘deranged loner’ doesn’t polish you off, your Big Pharma medication will!

Application for a green card in the ‘land of the free’? Avidly join those other American Dreamers? Erm, thank you very much but not for me. I mean, why the devil would anyone wish to become a migrant from solid working class consciousness? Why volunteer to be a ‘refugee’ in all other senses of well-being?

Somewhat ironically as well as very beautifully, Tom Petty’s best ever song tells it like it is:

“Somewhere, somehow, somebody must have kicked you around some. Tell me why you want to lay there and revel in your abandon. Hey, it don’t make no difference to me; everybody’s had to fight to be free. You see, you don’t have to live like a refugee!”

Bruno Kretzschmar

Radical Burns

Wakefield Socialist History Group are holding a ‘socialist Burns night’ on Saturday January 27, beginning at 1pm at the Red Shed (Wakefield Labour Club), Vicarage Street, Wakefield WF1.

Robert Burns was the son of a working gardener. He only had a basic education and worked from an early age. After his father - who had Jacobite sympathies - died prematurely Burns and his brothers were left with a “poor, undercapitalised farm”. Indeed the family tried, unsuccessfully, to make a living out of several apparently unprofitable holdings.

This was an age of rural change. Peasants were finding themselves unable to maintain their debt bondage to landowners. Many farms were failing and peasants were being squeezed out because of enclosures and ‘improvements’.

Burns even had a stint as a dresser of flax and contemplated emigrating to the West Indies. What changed his mind was literary success. The publication of his poems in the form of the Kilmarnock edition in 1786 saw him move to Edinburgh instead.

After a year of enjoying adulation he returned to the soil at Ellisland near Dumfries before becoming an exciseman. He was now a paid government officer. It was slightly ironic, given that Burns had republican sympathies. Indeed he was accused of having joined in with a rendition of the French revolutionary song, ‘Ça ira’, in a Dumfries theatre. He was also alleged to be in league with a local grouping of the ‘Friends of the People’.

Certainly Burns had written political poetry all his adult life. Moreover Burns remained a “staunch republican” until his death in 1796. How shocking then that after his death he should be “incorporated into service for the empire”. His poetry would be sanitised and his image would be used as a tawdry decorative element in tourism and light entertainment.

Alan Stewart
Wakefield Socialist History Group