Rex Dunn’s ‘Trotskyism and May 1968’ (June 14), though it purports to reply to my transcribed speech ‘May 68 to colour revolutions’ (May 68 to colour revolutions’, May 31), in fact almost completely fails to engage with it.
I make no apology for the fact that a talk to the London Communist Forum, which is what this was, is ‘abstract’: ie, not elaborately documented or replete with concrete examples.
Comrade Dunn says that I fail to engage with Stalinism, but then doesn’t engage with Stalinism himself - except via the views of the Trotskyists in the immediate post-war period. His argument amounts merely to saying: the counterrevolution (including the Stalinists) denied the Trotskyists the opportunity of becoming a “material force” - which is just another way of saying, ‘The enemy turned out to be too strong for us’. On this basis, why shouldn’t we suppose that the enemy will always be too strong for us? I argued this point in 2007 (‘Defeat was fault of enemy machine guns’, May 24 2007); it might help for Rex to respond critically to those arguments.
He bizarrely says that “Mike proceeds to develop a link between US containment and his own theory of bureaucratic collectivism, which, he claims, was adopted by the British, French and German establishment.” I don’t believe in bureaucratic collectivism (or, I should add, state capitalism), and in my talk was merely reporting ideas in common currency in mainstream western politics and academic writing in the cold war period.
On the contrary, in spite of the fact that I think the Stalinist regime was a historical blind alley (comrade Jack Conrad’s “ectopic social formation” is a useful phrase), the genuine left in the cold war period needed to be Soviet-defencist, as Trotsky argued in 1940 - because the actual available alternative was not ‘Neither Washington nor Moscow’, but just ‘Washington’ and as a result the massive social destruction that has followed 1989-91 in both east and west; and it was only from a defencist starting point that it was possible to argue against the Stalinist politics which led to 1989-91 and what followed.
As to the history of the Trotskyists, I observe that one of the problems of the post-war Trotskyists (on all sides of the big factional divides) was the passing of resolutions which repeated large amounts of pre-war texts as dogma, while combining them with different operative arguments, which have to be teased out in order to establish what the actual operative politics of the group in question was. Comrade Dunn’s quotations - which select odd sources here and there - largely refer only to the repetitions of orthodoxy.
One example he quotes which is not repetition of orthodoxy is the 1947 Fourth International slogan for “the immediate withdrawal of [Soviet] occupation troops” from eastern Europe. This was straightforwardly Shachtmanite and, had it been implemented, would have led in short order to a new imperialist aggression against the USSR.
On June 16 Left Unity held its annual conference. The party has been steadily shrinking since 2016, but it still has over 500 members. Over 25 activists attended - which tells its own story.
But it was a significant conference after last year’s nervous breakdown. The demand LU liquidates into the Labour Party was no longer evident in resolutions or speeches. The main question before conference was the ‘crisis of democracy’, which grew from the politics of austerity. The EU referendum has taken this to a whole new level. It has divided England between the Anglo-British and Anglo-Europeans. An emergency resolution was tabled about the recent Anglo-British mass mobilisation in London by supporters of Tommy Robinson, the British National Party, UK Independence Party, etc.
The battle over Brexit is bringing us to the brink of a constitutional crisis in relations between the crown, parliament and the peoples of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The shocking disaster at Grenfell Tower showed the ‘crisis of democracy’ at local as well as at national and European levels.
This fed into the main strand of the conference. What kind of party are we going to be? Was LU to carry on with its own brand of Trotskyism or recognise the centrality of the working class in the struggle for democracy and socialism? Should the crown, parliament or people ratify the Tory Brexit deal? Should unionism be able to impose Brexit on Northern Ireland and Scotland?
Left Unity was set up in 2013 as a Trotskyist front. All the leading activists were either in small Trotskyist organisations like Socialist Resistance, CPGB or Workers Power, or were refugees from the various organisations which litter the left landscape, such as the Workers Revolutionary Party, Socialist Workers Party and the Militant Tendency.
The rationale was that unlike the major Trotskyist parties - the SWP and the Socialist Party - the fragments were unable to engage in mass politics. They realised they could do better by hanging together than separately. So Left Unity made sense. When it came to a programme for this new front, then it was left reformism or social monarchism that could bind them together.
In 1945 the Labour government carried through its programme of social monarchy - extensive ‘cradle to grave’ social reforms on the basis of loyalty to the constitutional monarchy, as embodied in George VI. The ‘spirit of 45’ ran like a red line through LU, inspired by Ken Loach’s call for unity. Left Unity was designed by Trotskyists to fill the gap which the Labour left was too weak and feeble to occupy.
In 2015 Jeremy Corbyn burst onto the scene and left reformism (ie, social monarchism) took back the ‘sprit of 45’ and raised it to new heights previously unimaginable. LU’s small Trotskyist groups began decanting to the Labour Party. Why build a front when you could join a mass Labour Party and try to convert it into a much bigger Trotskyist front?
Left Unity began to shrink, disorientated by the unexpected turn of events. The first version, embodying the ‘spirit of 45’, was as dead as a dodo. None of the current leadership refers to it and some even pretend it never happened. So the question before this conference was the politics and character of Left Unity mark two.
The main ideological dispute between socialists in Left Unity was between republicanism and Trotskyism. It was in effect a dispute as to whether the minimum programme of LU should be social republican or social monarchist. British Trotskyism had long become a voice for Labour’s social monarchism with its demands for social reforms - on health, housing, transport and public ownership.
The matter came to a head over the new LU constitution. A resolution from South London sought to amend the statement of party aims. It proposed to insert after “environmentalist” the French word, “republican”.
If passed the aims of LU would now read “Left Unity is a party of the radical left, linked to the European Left Party, working in solidarity with like-minded anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist parties internationally. We are socialist, feminist, environmentalist, republican and opposed to all forms of discrimination”.
Some comrades from South London felt this was so innocuous that it was bound to go through. But they hadn’t reckoned with the fact that republicanism is like a red rag to the Trotskyist bull. The massed ranks of ex- Militant, ex-SWP and ex-WRP took to the floor to oppose republicanism, which they saw as threatening their leadership.
The Trotskyists declared they were totally and utterly republican. It was so obvious that there was no need to mention it. Every socialist felt the same and never mentioned it either. So too the Labour Party, which never had a republican programme. Indeed avoiding republicanism was the litmus test of (pseudo-)‘revolutionary’ and left reformist politics.
By the end of conference the Trotskyists secured their control of Left Unity with a new, more centralist constitution. A great opportunity to rethink and discuss the strategy and programme was lost. This conference confirmed the decline of Left Unity. The ‘crisis of democracy’, which is growing in England, the UK and Europe, will show that LU is not only shrinking, but - more importantly - has no answers.
Peter Manson is obviously upset about my last letter, which nailed the reason why an important group of black activists bailed out of Labour Against the Witchhunt - a result of the CPGB’s misleadership.
His ill-tempered and apolitical dismissal of supposedly “pathetic arguments” and his statement that some “highly respected” people voted for our exclusion from Labour Against the Witchhunt is extremely weak. He does not give any political reasons why these people should be “highly respected” by Marxists. Some of those who voted for our exclusion for supposed ‘anti-Semitism’ support the Nazi-infested Maidan government in the Ukraine, and the imperialist-funded jihadist war against Assad in Syria, for instance. I don’t ‘respect’ such trends - they are pro-imperialist and reactionary.
Those who advocate separate Jews-only political groups to ‘fight’ Zionism, as Moshé Machover does, can be justly called semi-Bundist. Only semi-Bundist, because they do not go all the way and advocate a Jews-only political party, as the Bund built. Peter has obviously renounced basic Leninism with his feeble argument that to criticise the ideology behind this is to brand any Jewish person on the left as reactionary, and in implying that there is something racist about criticising it at all.
As someone who is intimately acquainted with white South African politics, I wonder why Peter did not advocate separate whites-only groups to ‘fight’ apartheid? Answer - because the very idea accepts the basic concept of apartheid - racial segregation. The idea that special Jewish-only groups are necessary to ‘fight’ Zionism also accepts one of the basic concepts of Zionism: that Jews are morally superior to non-Jews who always need a Jewish voice to give them the seal of approval, even when they are engaged in struggles against oppression, when the oppressors they are fighting are Jewish. This is a form of racist paternalism, and the fact that it is widespread only indicates the depth of Zionist influence on the left.
Peter congratulates himself that, at the time of the anti-communist purge that the CPGB initiated, the Labour Party black activists supported the purge. But they are left reformists; he is supposed to be a Marxist.
The depth of influence of Zionism on British social democracy is shown by the fact that the Labour Party actually passed a resolution at its 1941 conference, six years before the naqba began, calling for the ‘transfer’ of Arabs from Palestine to make way for a Jewish state - in effect calling for the naqba several years before the actual event.
This is the mainstream Labourite tradition regarding the Jewish question and Zionism, and it is deeply rooted in Labourism and British society in general. It would be surprising therefore if even black activists like Grassroots Black Left, from the mainstream Labour left tradition did not share the CPGB’s own capitulation to Zionism when the question was put. But the CPGB’s chauvinism and defence of the British ruling class against charges of racism still managed to alienate them, given a bit of time.
Peter confirms my contention that the CPGB seeks to stop Marxist analysis of class differentiation of the Jewish people(s) when he says that it is permissible to talk about how many or few Jews (in classless terms) support Israel, but not to talk about how the unusual, top-heavy class structure of the same population gives their ruling class component the social weight to effectively promote hard-line, pro-Israeli politics in the western countries. This is an explicit rejection of and attempt to forbid Marxist analysis of the class composition of the Jews.
The CPGB has many times used ‘class analysis’ as an excuse for failing to defend Muslim peoples in semi-colonial states against imperialism, or refusing to ally with Muslim immigrant groups against imperialism (over Iraq, for instance), but here class analysis is ruled out. For Jews only. This is the triumph of chauvinism over Marxism in the CPGB’s ideology.
As the Weekly Worker once said, “We in the CPGB, unlike some, are not minded to fling around accusations of racism - or treat racism as the greatest crime one can ever commit” (‘Elephant in the room’, May 5 2016). The latter phrase is quite an amazing statement from supposed anti-racists and Marxists.
I wonder if they are so unfazed about male chauvinism, anti-gay bigotry or that against transsexuals? I doubt it. But it is clear that they are not too bothered about bigotry against non-whites and immigrants. Yet they have a totally different attitude to Jews - any criticism or analysis of the class structure and social power of Zionism in the advanced countries is treated as racism without any requirement to even show that the authors of that criticism hate Jews at all! In fact the CPGB have admitted in writing, several times, that our comrades do not hate Jews. Hatred of Jews is the very definition of anti-Semitism. By saying this, the CPGB have admitted to libelling us, in plain English.
For the CPGB, people who hate immigrants, advocate discrimination and state repression against them, and knowingly engage in racial persecution of British citizens because of their origin in the Caribbean and South Asia, effectively depriving them of citizenship, are acquitted of racism. But those who put together a class analysis of the reasons for the political strength and social weight of organised Jewish anti-Arab racism in the advanced countries are deemed to be racist, even though they do not hate Jews and advocate no state repression of any kind against them. What we advocate is that the workers’ movement consciously take up the struggle to expose and oppose this form of organised racism and act as a tribune of the oppressed.
This is a sign of the CPGB’s own racist bias, which exists on various levels of consciousness: a philo-Semitic bias in favour of Jews and the dominant white east Europeans as privileged groups under imperialism, and against non-whites and other oppressed groups. Unlike the CPGB, we do regard racism as a serious matter and political struggle against it is one of the fundamental bases of our trend.
The idea that there can be national chauvinism and repression without racism is a complete non-sequitur. Dave Vincent wants to stop east European workers ‘taking British jobs’. How is that unrelated to material circulating calling for ‘No more Polish vermin’ that have become notorious in this period? No doubt he would not be so crude. But the sentiment is the same.
The implicit argument that east European workers are white and therefore cannot be the victims of racism does not wash. By that logic there could never be any racism against the Irish, who are also white, when in fact that is a major feature of British racism. Most of the Jewish victims of Adolf Hitler were also white. Any ideology that treats particular groups of human beings as less than fully human or undeserving of equal rights on grounds of nationality or ethnic origin is racism. After all, ‘race’ is not an objective property of any human being, but a social construction. Racism is a plague.
Likewise, Peter Manson’s argument that the current government is not racist and that this is proven by the appointment of Sajid Javid as home secretary is an incredible apologia. Even under slavery and Jim Crow, a minority of privileged blacks acted as overseers on the plantations. The Nazis used Jewish ‘kapos’ in the concentration camps. The real question is what happens to the masses. And the mass of non-white and other immigrants continue to be second-class citizens in so many ways - targets of police harassment, deaths in custody, disproportionately poor and jobless, etc.
Some groups with more of a petty bourgeois element in their culture have done better, but the bourgeoisie still regards them as ‘other’ and they still suffer from racism therefore. The Jewish experience shows that if the ruling class does decide to cease discrimination and oppression against a minority, it can do so. The fact that blacks, Muslims and others are in practice second-class citizens is because the ruling class wants it that way; it uses this to promote divisions within the working class to preserve the existing order. In every case except for that of the Jews, the systematic oppression of minorities was and is linked to some kind of colonial and later semi-colonial question, which are fundamental to imperialist capitalism. This is why the masses of such origins will always be treated as inferior, even if a tiny group of bourgeois can escape. Bourgeois ‘anti-racism’ is a lie: for so-called Marxists to buy into this rubbish is a major political error and dereliction.
Peter’s explicit defence of the ruling class reactionary anti-racism theory of the CPGB is risible. So should we say that when the 19th century Tories and Liberals passed laws against child labour this was “a reactionary ideology, aimed at denying the common class interests of the proletariat in the name of queen and country”? The anti-racism of the British ruling class is only for respectable outward show, as the Grenfell Tower outrage and the Windrush scandal showed. Behind the scenes they are not anti-racist: they are still vile racists - though not as upfront with it as the Tommy Robinson supporters. And it was surely the “senior police officers” who would never advocate “discriminatory behaviour”, according to Peter, who told the police in Whitehall to treat the fascists with such kid gloves for violent behaviour against them on Saturday June 9 that would have seen a leftist demonstration battered to a pulp and hit with tear gas and water cannon.
Progressive laws against child labour, against racism and against all capitalist barbarism are a result of the organisations of the working class fighting for these rights in the streets and workplaces, which is then reflected in legislation wrung out of a racist, exploitative capitalist system, as Marx noted in Capital volume 1. It is not a conspiracy against workers or part of a reactionary ideology, as the CPGB so ridiculously proposes. And is the reaction of the Tories to the Grenfell and Windrush scandals another example of ruling class reactionary anti-racism? Or fear of the consequences if they reacted otherwise?
Never trust USA
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (ie, North Korea) cannot trust the United States of America. The US does not keep its promises, honour its treaties and obey international laws. This is not opinion: it is the history of the US, beginning with the native Americans.
The US has broken promises and treaties in every corner of the globe. It habitually starts asymmetrical wars, destroys nations, leaving millions of people dead, dying and in misery.
Libya was once a prosperous nation. Muammar Gaddafi was an eccentric dictator, but he had a love for Libya and its people. Under him the people enjoyed a high standard of living, economic freedom, and gender equality. Yet in 2011 president Obama wantonly destroyed Libya and conspired in Gaddafi’s assassination.
Even if North Korea completely and forever denuclearises, Kim Jong-un can never be assured that one day the US won’t try to do the same thing to North Korea that it did to Libya.
If North Korea completely denuclearises and the US removes all economic sanctions, there is no way to guarantee that some future US president won’t accuse North Korea of secretly harbouring a nuclear programme. Or the US can invent a false flag event to impose economic sanctions. Economic sanctions are financial weapons of mass destruction that kill hundreds of thousands of people.
Tales of North Korean human rights abuses are not based on facts, but are rumours based on propaganda. The US does not care about human rights. The only thing the US foreign policy cares about is its empire and taking care of US corporate interests around the world. Otherwise the US would do something about Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses. The US has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prisoners, yet it constantly harps about North Korea allegedly having a “gulag of 200,000 political prisoners”.
Between 1948 and 1987 South Korea was ruled by US puppet dictators, such as Syngman Rhee and Park Chung-Hee. They killed, tortured, and imprisoned without trial hundreds of thousands of South Koreans they considered dissidents. It is a crime in South Korea to associate with anyone even suspected of being a communist or sympathetic to North Korea. South Korea has thousands of political prisoners.
North Korea’s missiles are another red herring issue. Every country has the right to have missiles for self-defence. North Korea has missiles and nuclear weapons because the US has been threatening it with invasion and its own nuclear weapons since 1953. North Korea is a poor country, and it is economically less costly to have nuclear weapons and missiles than to maintain a modern airforce and keep up the conventional arms race with South Korea.
The threat of war in Korea has its roots in Washington and not in Pyongyang. It is the USA that is the aggressor. The US is a savagely violent and aggressive nation with the ambition of an empire that rules the world. It demands that other nations submit to its will. The US does not hesitate to use overwhelming violence against small nations to enforce its hegemony. It will punish them until they submit or until they are so utterly destroyed that they are an example to other countries that even think about disobeying US dictates.
North Korea is not paranoid to fear the US and prepare its defences accordingly. It was a victim of US total warfare in the 1950s. It wants to avoid a repeat of that war by having a credible deterrent for self-defence.
The US has been threatening the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea with nuclear weapons, conventional weapons and financial weapons of mass destruction since 1953. It is a violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty for a nuclear power to threaten a non-nuclear power. North Korea had a legal right to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty because of US threats. North Korea is not in violation of international law by having nuclear weapons and missiles.
General Wesley Clark has publicly stated that a high ranking officer in the Pentagon told him shortly after 9-11 that the US planned to “take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran”. After 17 years the US has not changed its plans. Once a country gets on the US list to “take out” it can never get off; the US is relentless even if it takes years or decades.
In his 2002 “axis of evil” speech George W Bush put North Korea eighth on the list that Clark spoke about. The US is just biding its time. First it plans to “take out” Iran. Then it will try to ‘finish off’ with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
David William Pear
On June 15, the official independent watchdog for government spending, the national audit office, declared that universal credit had been a failure. Rugby Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, which has been campaigning for UC to be scrapped ever since its inception in 2013, is delighted.
We know from first-hand experience that it has caused untold suffering locally ever since Rugby began to pilot the new benefit five years ago. We have continuous examples of it being used to reduce benefits, forcing more and more Rugby people into food and fuel poverty, leading to rent arrears and evictions.
The main findings of the national audit office are that universal credit:
l instead of saving money, has cost taxpayers even more than the previous benefits system;
l is not getting more people into work;
l has led to hundreds of thousands of claimants having to wait weeks or months for benefit payments.
The report concludes that the numbers forced to use food banks have increased wherever UC is being rolled out, as we have previously reported in Rugby.
Rugby Tusc has outlined its concerns to local Tory MP Mark Pawsey on a number of occasions, and we have taken individual cases to him of the hardship caused by it. However, Mark has consistently refused to accept that his government’s flagship welfare reform should be ditched. He toes the party line, as dictated by Tory central office. He must now think again, and, when Rugby Tusc meets later this week, we will discuss sending a delegation to his next surgery to put the case for abandoning UC even more forcibly. Meeting Mark Pawsey face to face gives us the chance to persuade him to call for it to be replaced. What does he think about the suffering of a number of his constituents?
Ironically, on the very day the national audit office announced its findings last Friday, Tusc had a scheduled session outside Rugby Job Centre talking to claimants about their experiences and offer what support we can. Three individual cases we encountered last Friday vividly illustrate what is wrong with UC and why the government must abandon it:
- A man in his 50s, with blindness caused by a brain disorder, with sick notes from his doctor since November, had been receiving £691 per month whilst on income support. He was moved onto UC and now has to live on just £291 a month. Why? Because the department for work and pensions do not employ expensive medical professionals, or doctors, to make the health assessments. A physiotherapist, not a blind/brain specialist, saw this person, and they ruled against his doctor.
- A woman in her 50s with osteoporosis of the spine has been made to attend the job centre once a week despite severe back pain if she walks more than a few hundred yards. She will lose her UC if she does not attend. She has doctors’ sick notes for 12 months, and clearly cannot work at present, so why are they forcing her to attend the job centre weekly?
- A man in his early 60s with early onset dementia, whose wife also suffers from dementia had to wait two months for his first UC payment, and he only coped by getting financial help from his 35-year-old son - another example of parents becoming dependent on their adult children because of payment delays. Rugby Job Centre refused to give him a letter for his dentist to avoid having to pay for treatment. He had lost his initial paper confirmation of universal credit. They said all the information he needed was on his file online. The problem is that he has not got a smart phone and is not on the internet, so he cannot show anything to the dentist.
The suffering UC has caused has been well documented by Rugby Tusc and, at long last, the authorities agree with us. As Rugby was one of six pilot areas, it has more people on UC than elsewhere, and thus more people who get into debt, use food banks and/or cannot pay their rent as a result of being moved onto it.
The whole point of introducing UC was to save money - it is part of the Tories’ austerity measures. Even that has not worked. But it is the human suffering that concerns us more, as the cases we discovered on Friday continue to prove, whether it be delays in receiving any payment, unavailability of internet access, erroneous medical assessments by non-professionals or sheer, draconian old-fashioned intolerance of people’s medical problems.
We will have many questions to ask Mark Pawsey when we see him, and we won’t be satisfied until he accepts that UC is fatally flawed and has to be replaced by a much fairer and accessible system of paying welfare benefits.