Back to front
I was very surprised to find myself the main subject (target?) of an article by Jack Conrad (‘Democracy, not referendums’, April 19). As Jack helpfully stated, I was writing as an individual and certainly not as the representative of any political party or group. I have no standing in the labour or wider movement - hence my bewilderment as to the sudden attention.
I have no wish to ‘take on’ Jack. I know I would be thoroughly trounced, and in any case I agree with the great majority of what he writes. He is extremely well-read, obviously highly intelligent, and writes eloquently and persuasively. I do appreciate him describing me as putting “honest” arguments. I hope so too. I would, however, be grateful to make some clarifying comments.
Jack feels the need to do a “necessary background check” on me. Why? How? He states I have moved from the “daydreams of the Socialist Party of Great Britain” to the “nightmares of ‘official communism’”. Although I did not feel I should describe my political party journey, I had provided the editor with a summary and find it odd Jack has got this back to front.
I joined the original (official) Communist Party of Great Britain in 1985 aged 19. I did so because I felt I was a communist, and I believed at that time the British road to socialism represented the application of the Communist manifesto to the conditions and circumstances of Britain in the 1980s. I might have a more critical view now, but still regard that 1978 version with affection and it still reads very radical and genuinely revolutionary in sections.
I left the CPGB to join the Communist Party of Britain in July 1988: ie, a few months after re-establishment. I had held a number of centrist and left views in the CPGB, but did believe the strategy and formation of the Communist Campaign Group was wrong. However, once the CPB had been formed, we had two communist parties, but the CPB was expressing the policies, programme, strategy and tactics which most communists had supported up to that period.
It was also clear that the formation of the CPB, although supported by a minority of communists, resulted in a sort of internal organisational implosion in the CPGB. Having won the special congress in 1985, it seemed clear that the leading factions in control of the CPGB had no real idea or notion as to how to take their politics forward. So the CPGB was faced with decline, stagnation and inertia.
I did leave the CPB in 1995, citing two principal reasons. One, Tony Blair had been elected Labour leader and was carrying out a series of humiliating attacks and breaks with what appeared to have been everything Labour had stood for. I just couldn’t see how our Communist Party could regard a Labour Party led by Blair as in any way a first step on the road to socialism.
Two, I felt the CPB was insufficiently making the basic case for socialism. The almost complete emphasis was on reformist demands, which were just one step ahead of the masses and politicians. Raising the need for socialism and revolution to achieve it was slapped down as ‘left sectarian’.
Fortunately, changes in the CPB, from the bottom upwards during the 1990s - the early signs of which, to be fair, the Weekly Worker was very astute in identifying, in terms of a newer, younger membership - led to formal changes in leadership in 1998.
Since then, the CPB has become increasingly open and explicit about putting forward the ‘basic case’ against capitalism and for socialism, alongside support and enhancement of existing demands - and linking immediate demands to a worked up strategy of how these can be developed, linked and joined as part of a comprehensive strategy for democratic, socialist revolution: “The communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement.”
I respect the SPGB for the fact they have consistently advocated socialism to replace capitalism, and have developed a lively, modern analysis of current capitalism and trends, and in turn articulated this into a practical, realistic vision for socialism. Yes, I wrote a pretty pedestrian article for them on wage labour and capital. So what?
For a short number of years in the noughties I was a member of the CPGB (ML). I rejoined the CPB in 2009. I believe the CPB is the true inheritor of the ‘official’ communist trend in Britain, and that is the place to work through in a democratic, disciplined and comradely manner the appropriate strategy for socialist revolution in Britain in the 21st century, based in the organised working class and labour movement, and developing alliances with wider progressive sections of society.
On Jack’s principal point - yes, I believe that direct democracy, including whole-population referendums, are a good thing, and we should have more of them. Omitted from my letter (April 12) was an argument that referendums should be used to endorse (or not) significant changes to the constitution. My personal view would be for a minimum turnout (over 50%?), a minimum margin of votes to support the change (55%, 60%?), and, in a multinational state like the UK, a majority or even all of the respective nations in favour.
The relationship of the UK to the European Union is precisely of such significance: it was right that the people as whole should be asked their view. I think it is entirely consistent and principled to have supported referenda to join the EU in 1975, to decide on continued membership in 2016, and a vote on the final deal (if any) in 2019 or 2020.
I accept that my suggestion (nothing stronger) of additional and complementary ways to involve the populace in decision-making - both big questions of direction and some of the options in between - was radical and challenging. It should have been fairly obvious that I do not expect such democratic sovereignty of the majority - and a multitude and plurality of different mechanisms for them to express and then exercise their will - to take place under capitalism. I was suggesting and provoking some thoughts as to how democracy in a more complex and pluralistic manner might operate in a socialist society. I am sorry I did not make that clearer.
When I said we should fight for greater democracy “in the here and now”, that did not mean to imply I thought capitalism and a class-divided society could or would ever deliver that. I feel I was actually close to the Weekly Worker group’s position of fighting for “extreme democracy” and specific democratic measures as part of the minimum programme.
On Jack’s logic, there is no real point in advocating (say) the abolition of the monarchy, annual parliaments, etc, as under capitalism that would make precious real difference. But that would not be the point. We are trying to prefigure the future society through our immediate struggles and demands.
Finally, I am not “much influenced by Alvin Toffler”. Jack notes that his 1980 book includes predictions of “the erosion of the nation-state, the increasing importance of transnational institutions such as the EU, an end to the centrality of mass production, a nano, cloning and communications technological revolution on a par with the Neolithic, the decline of money power and the rise of direct democracy through the internet, etc.” So not completely off the wall!
My interest in Toffler’s ideas related to his analysis that if the age of majorities is over, as a consequence of populations having become highly complex and differentiated, we need to assemble minorities in new and creative ways. Clearly, as a communist, I believe there continues to be a basic divide between the capitalist class (circa 2%-5%) and the working class (70%-80+%). The latter, with its allies, must carry out the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and establish socialism.
Although under capitalism we do have increasingly two fundamentally hostile classes, the working class - and the wider sector of working people - is extremely complex in structure and highly differentiated, the dialectical counterpart of the society overall settling into two overall hostile classes.
I think Toffler’s thoughts might have some relevance in governance, seeking out and constructing consensus and majority votes, recognising the complexity and diversity of the working class, which will come more to the fore following the overthrow of the capitalist class.
If you want to know the untold history of the USA, then a good place to start is with the history of US imperialism in Asia from the mid-19th century. Not only will that reveal the criminality of US foreign policy, but also the true nature of capitalism, imperialism and wars of aggression - past, present and future.
For centuries the US has preached that it believes in democracy, freedom and self-determination, but its actions towards other countries speak louder than words. Internationally the US is a predator and a bully. It subjugates small countries, corrupts them by backing rightwing dictators, and enables death squads to commit mass murder of all suspected dissidents. During the first cold war leftists, anti-colonialists, nationalists and intellectuals were called ‘communists’ and imprisoned, tortured and executed. Now they are called ‘terrorists’.
US foreign policy interests are to promote the neocolonial interests of US corporations, and to project its financial and military power internationally. If the US cannot bully a head of state into collaborating, then it backs a military coup, stirs up internal violence with divide-and-conquer strategies, and covertly uses mercenaries to start civil wars. If all else fails, it will find a pretext or a false flag to invade and overthrow an unfriendly government.
Because of past disasters in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq, the US is hesitant to commit large numbers of US boots on the ground. Instead it prefers the safety of ‘boots in the sky’, with its domination of air power, to bomb helpless countries into submission. If it cannot get a country to submit. then it destroys it mercilessly as an example of the price that other countries will pay if they do not go along with the USA.
Sometimes the elites of foreign policy let their masks slip to reveal their true nature. When Zbigniew Brzezinski said in 2009 that “today it is infinitely easier to kill a million people than to control a million people”, he was not just intellectualising, as if teaching a Harvard course on political science. Brzezinski was admitting to his personal responsibility for policies that have killed millions of people.
It was Brzezinski who advised president Jimmy Carter to destabilise Afghanistan in the 1980s. At the time Afghanistan’s communist government was modernising the country, developing its economy, educating its people and improving the standard of living for millions of Afghans. It was also advancing the rights and opportunities for women, which the US is constantly touting as one of its cherished human rights concerns. It was Brzezinski’s destabilisation project that set women’s rights back hundreds of years in Afghanistan. When human rights get in the way of US foreign policy objectives, then human rights lose.
In 1979 Brzezinski advised Carter to secretly authorise the CIA to give financial and military aid to further inflame the Islamic fanatic mujahedeen that were violently opposed to modernisation. When the Soviet Union intervened militarily in support of the threatened Afghan government, it was not an invasion. It was the legal response of Russia to a neighbouring country that was asking for military aid against foreign-backed insurgents. Today we see a similar Russian military assistance programme in Syria for similar reasons against very similar villains.
For decades the US pretended that the false narrative of a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was reality. The US glorified the mujahedeen as freedom fighters, when actually they were Islamic fanatics and mercenary proxies used by the US and its co-conspirators. The US and the Saudis funded a heavily armed brand of Islamic terrorism that the US thought that it could control, ignore or kill off once it was no longer needed.
The natural political order for capitalism is rightwing dictatorship, martial law and fascism. Only by continuous expansion, imperialism and the exploitation of others can there be a compromise between capitalism and democracy domestically. When US presidents say that the “American way of life” is being threatened by enemies, what they mean is that small countries resist being subjugated and exploited by the US empire.
The US is still trying to control the world with cannon balls. The cannon balls keep getting bigger, more technologically complex and more genocidal. The US cannot accept the reality that it cannot control the world. The more it tries to, the more destruction, death and chaos it causes. Instead of creating world order, the US keeps creating world disorder. World disorder threatens domestic order as more and more of the US wealth is drained off by military expenditures and maintaining a foreign empire.
Vladimir Lenin explained how today’s US foreign policy works in his 1917 thesis on the causes of World War I, Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism. Capitalism leads to monopoly, monopoly leads to imperialism and imperialism leads to war. Capitalism also leads to inequality, and inequality and democracy cannot coexist forever, because there are limits to expansion and growth. To preserve inequality requires fascism and a police state. Democracy can only thrive if there is more equality. Eventually, choices will be made between fascism and democracy - and between capitalism and something else.
David William Pear
The Polish reactionary government is making fresh moves against free speech and democratic pluralism in Poland. After the persecution of the legally registered Communist Party of Poland, the repression has now been extended to the editors of the communist website Władza Rad (www.1917.net.pl).
On April 30, police entered the flat of one of the Władza Rad (‘Soviet Power’) editors and took away his notebook, two hard drives and a cellphone. This was done despite the fact that the promotion of communism is legal in Poland, and so the move against him was completely unlawful. It was another outrageous act of repression against the leftwing opposition - a political activist is being persecuted for a non-existent crime. The Polish penal code forbids only “totalitarian” and fascist propaganda. The fact that this does not include the promotion of communism was confirmed by a ruling of the constitutional court in 2011.
In January this year the internal affairs minister, Joachim Brudzinski, denied the existence of a neo-fascist threat in Poland and tried to use the red herring of an alleged “neo-communist” threat against democracy. Following this, the police and state prosecution office have carried out an aggressive campaign against both communists and any leftwing opposition.
The legally registered Komunistyczna Partia Polski (Communist Party of Poland) has faced harsh repression. Several KPP activists have been convicted of alleged offences, but they have appealed and their cases are still pending. Even the social democratic and aggressively anti-communist Razem (‘Together’ - which presents itself as the Polish version of the Spanish Podemos) has faced repression - some members of pro-government youth organisations have demanded its delegalisation for the “promotion of communism”.
While even centre-right European politicians like Jean-Claude Juncker acknowledge Marx’s place in history, Polish state television recently broadcasted a programme on the “murderous ideas of Karl Marx” (using fabricated quotes from the founder of scientific socialism), and the government punishes any leftwing opposition activity, while the demonstrations of the neo-fascist ONR (‘National Radical Camp’ - a far-right organisation, which took its name from an anti-Semitic and fascist organisation of the 1930s) are protected by the police.
The state’s drift towards authoritarianism now involves even the violation of the autonomy of universities. On May 12, the police broke up a conference organised by scientists at the University of Szczecin in north-west Poland to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth, despite the law on university autonomy.
We, the editing staff of Władza Rad have always stood for the unconditional defence of freedom of speech and other human rights, as guaranteed by the United Nations charter. We are opposed to any violation. We call for international solidarity against the policy of the Polish government, which is violating the fundamental rules of democracy. The aim of this reactionary government is to destroy any leftwing opposition, ensure the stability of the rule of capital and maintain the system of exploitation of the working class. The defence of democratic rights for the working class and Marxist political organisations is now an absolute priority.
We call on all communists, socialists and others on the left to express their solidarity against acts of state repression directed against the communist movement in Poland. We appeal for demonstrations at Polish embassies and the delivering of petitions all around the globe.
The court of appeal has decided that our comrade, Martin, should be given a six-month suspended sentence for alleged violence against the police during a youth demonstration in May 2016. He was ordered to pay €800 to one police officer and €500 each to two others, along with a five-year entry on his criminal record (preventing him from working in the public sector during that time), although there was no actual fine ...
Martin had previously been given an eight-month suspended sentence for alleged violence against seven allegedly injured police officers - which means that the court of appeal has now dismissed the claims of four of them. With this verdict, the court acknowledges the blatant inconsistencies which the CGT union confederation has been exposing from the very start. From the very start it had been a political trial.
The CGT condemns this outrageous verdict and reasserts its support for Martin, and every activist facing repression in France due to their commitment to the struggle.