So now the Labour Party has accepted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition/working document as to what anti-Semitism actually is. This work has often been described as “internationally recognised” (not least over and over again in The Guardian) and I suppose that it is. That is, on a level with ‘An Englishman, a Scotsman and an Irishman go into a bar …’ There they see a framed copy of the document on the wall and say in unison: ‘I’ve seen that before!’ This ‘recognition’ has been one of the many lies in the smear campaign: the alliance has 31 members, of which six, apparently, have “recognised” the document. As far as I am aware, it is unknown how many, if any, have put it into law and how many, if any, have accepted all 11 examples.
Anyway, the Labour Party can now show itself as a shining example to the world, and its members can no longer claim that the “existence of the state of Israel is a racist endeavour”. This raises a further question, however: are we allowed to say that the formation of the USA was a racist endeavour? Given the ethnic cleansing and the centuries of dependence on slave labour, it is tempting. We must obviously fear the risk of extradition to face ‘The House Un-American Activities Committee’ if we go too far.
So how have all the other states come into existence? In Europe this was the outcome of centuries of feudal feuding, as Perry Anderson pointed out in his Passages from antiquity to feudalism. Feudal lords had only one means to increase their wealth and that was by gaining new territory; this might be by marriage or by conquest, but the point then was to keep it. Hence centuries of warfare, including the rise and fall of great empires, such as the Swedish and the Lithuanian, and over time the consolidation of more or less natural parcels of land that became nations. At the time they didn’t need to be ‘nations’: they were just the land owned or ruled over by whoever it was.
Religion played a growing role, of course, with, especially, rivalries between Protestant and Catholic rulers - the Dutch, for instance, cast off Catholic Spain. But, while there was great hatred and fear, victories and defeats, courage, foresight and stupidity, these were battles seen as being fought between more or less equal human beings - even if some of them were clearly heading for eternal damnation.
Racism was something else. As Theodore Allen explores in The invention of the white race, Africans were accepted in the earliest years in North America - they could even hold white indentured servants. Racism was needed, and constructed, so that black people could be held as slaves. With the spread of European imperialism, this also provided rationalisation for the massacre, rape, pillage and enslavement of peoples all over the world. They were of lower culture and intelligence, they were brutish and uncivilised and they were, perhaps best of all, not Christians. These were beliefs that needed almost no justification for several hundred more years.
Were there any states then that came into being by racist endeavour? I would suggest that the USA and Australia are glaringly obvious. To this day I don’t think that there is any country in the Americas that is ruled now, let alone at their foundation, by indigenous people. In Asia we have the longstanding countries of China and India and, no doubt, a few others. They may have been trampled on, conquered and ravaged by racists, but they do not owe their existence to those endeavours.
But what of Africa? We have ancient states in Egypt and Ethiopia. Africa is notorious for the straight lines between states, drawn by racists with neither knowledge nor interest of the peoples inhabiting these countries. And then we come to what is often referred to as the Middle East. After World War I, when both the Arabs and the Zionists had been promised self-government, we had, as might have been expected, the carve-up between imperial France and imperial Great Britain - a racist carve-up, in that neither country could care less about the local inhabitants; a long, peaceful rule through puppets and the protection of imperial interests, including shipping and oil, were the only concerns. Syria and Lebanon to France; and Iraq, Jordan and Palestine to Britain.
But Britain had promised a state to the Zionists and so there was a push to make it so, against some opposition for a while, but eventually leading to success. And so, in this racist mish-mash, we have the state of Israel - alone in the region and quite unusual in the world - which is not the result of a racist endeavour. How strange.
The newly relaunched Tribune magazine first issue was printed in September 2018. The first falsehood it contained could not have appeared any earlier, coming straight after the title. Not only that - the falsehood is a major one, a whopper. It carries the subtitle, “Britain’s oldest democratic socialist publication”.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain have published the Socialist Standard every month, uninterrupted, since September 1904. Tribune, by contrast, was first published in 1937 - a detail which is also trumpeted on the cover.
The SPGB is a companion party of the World Socialist Movement, of which all companion parties operate democratically, regarding this as inseparable from socialism. One such companion party, the World Socialist Party of the United States, marked their centenary in 2016, including advertising enquiries with Jacobin, whose owners now also own Tribune.
This sloppy attitude to facts that are easy to check portends badly for the new Tribune.
Jon D White
Dave Vincent, in the course of correcting some editorial mistakes, unfortunately introduces one of his own in describing Hugh Lanning as a Blairite. (Letters, September 13).
I was one of the minority of the left in PCS that supported Mark Serwotka’s campaign for general secretary in 2000 against Barry Reamsbottom and Hugh, but I haven’t lost my bearings. Following Mark’s landslide victory, Reamsbottom attempted to set the result aside and cling to power through an internal coup. Hugh, to his great credit, loyally opposed the coup. He has long been associated with both Palestine and Cuba solidarity, been a vice-chair of Unite Against Fascism, and has been a frequent contributor to the Morning Star - none of them known as Blairite projects. He spoke at an anti-English Defence League rally in my borough in 2012.
In 2017, he became the first UK national to be banned from entering Israel because of his support for the BDS movement. In retirement he played a prominent role in Diane Abbott’s campaign to be Labour’s London mayoral candidate in 2015 - a campaign in which Diane was very much seen as the candidate of the left.
Leyton & Wanstead CLP
Paul Demarty lays out all around him in his article, ‘The poverty of left remainers’, but has no answers himself on how to proceed, apart from the third campist, “the British state and a EU bureaucracy … both are in enemy hands, ... both must be destroyed and a genuine socialist internationalism put to work replacing them” (September 27).
The purpose of a 4,000-word article should be to attempt some answer to this pressing problem, but ‘Neither London nor Brussels, but international socialism’ is a very comfortable place theoretically when the fierce winds of the class struggle blow about our ears.
Capitalism is national, socialism is international. ‘Workers of the world, unite’ is not only possible, but absolutely indispensable for socialism and eventually the social and economic egalitarianism of communism. Capitalism can and must expand its trade and economy internationally, but can never unite politically - not least because its production for profit constrains expansion, due to the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, causing cyclical crises, and therefore leads to trade wars. These always highlight the national homes of all transnational corporations and the barrier to the expansion of the productive forces necessary for human development. It is not just the distribution of wealth that is needed, but a mode of production unconstrained by profit motives - one based on production for human need.
Nonetheless, Paul does at least approach the answer on a few occasions, only to draw back in terror. He correctly points out that back in 1973-75: “The Labour left took many of its political cues from the Communist Party, whose strategic objective was to break Britain from diplomatic alliance with the US into formal non-alignment and ultimately friendship with the Warsaw Pact. From this point of view, the EEC was the human face of Nato. When the ailing Heath government succeeded in dragooning Britain into membership, Harold Wilson promised a referendum on whether to stay, and duly delivered - thus the peculiar sight of Tony Benn sharing a platform with Enoch Powell. In the end, Britain remained.”
Brexit or remain does matter. It is clear that the forces to the right of Theresa May are viciously racist, viciously anti-immigrant and for import controls. The Brexit vote has enormously strengthened Tommy Robinson and the Democratic Football Lads Alliance. Our stance as revolutionary socialists really is not a choice between two wings of the ruling class. For any genuine fighter for socialism, it is the effect that Brexit has had and will have on working class consciousness that is the most important. If every individual national ruling class, every imperialist ruling class convinces the working class in their own state to think that they can solve their own problems within their own state by putting up trade barriers and keeping out the immigrants, foreign goods and services etc, that would be an absolute disaster for global class-consciousness. It is not just about Britain, but essentially global.
And workers are changing their minds in the face of the obvious job losses Brexit will entail. The second referendum would have got through Labour conference if the bureaucracy had not done its bureaucratic manoeuvring with the assistance of the union bureaucracy, not least Len McCluskey of Unite, who played such a disastrous role in imposing the IRHA definition and in scuppering open selection.
Those Trotskyist and other groups who are for Lexit now are as politically and ideologically dominated by the Communist Party of Britain as back in 1975. If we take a quote from The British road to socialism, the CPGB’s 1951 programme, where they charge the Tories and the Labour leaders with betraying the interests of ‘Britain’. Thinking the interests of ‘Britain’ to be the interests of British capitalism, they say: “The restoration of British national independence, which has been given away by the leaders of the Tory, Liberal and Labour parties, is the indispensable condition for Britain’s recovery and political, economic and social advance. The Communist Party declares that the leaders of the Tory, Liberal and Labour Parties, and their spokesmen in the press and on the BBC, are betraying the interests of Britain to dollar imperialism. Our call is for the unity of all true patriots to defend British national interests and independence.”
That is a complete abandonment, of course, of class politics - a popular front collapse. Moreover, defending the national sovereignty of an imperialist country like Britain is defending the right of British imperialism to ‘defend’ its colonies and semi-colonies. So, if we take another leading advocate of the left exit, the RMT union, in 2009 under the late Bob Crow it was notoriously soft on the Labour Party’s call for “British jobs for British workers”. This was a ‘great’ campaign - the Socialist Party supported it, while the Socialist Workers Party was somewhat better, but reluctantly supported it in the end. It was launched with the help of The Sun and The Daily Star. They had huge front-page covers promoting this campaign. And the strikes that resulted were ones that large sections of the capitalist class were absolutely delighted to support, because they knew that what was happening was a fight within the working class. Workers were blaming other workers - that was the essence of the situation.
As revolutionary socialists you have to raise your sights to the world stage. You must understand that the crisis of capitalism is global - truly international - not located in one country. The whole idea of capitalism in a single country is long gone, as Marx explained quite clearly. So the Stalinist idea of socialism in a single country is a complete farce, a lie.
There was no socialism in the USSR or in China and there could not be, because socialism depends on developing the productive forces to their highest level. Socialism does not depend on gaining power in a single country, passing laws through parliament and then hoping that the army will not shoot you. That is absolutely not how it is going to happen.
In 1923 Trotsky explained: “The democratic republican unification of Europe - a union really capable of guaranteeing the freedom of national development - is possible only on the road of a revolutionary struggle against militarist, imperialist, dynastic centralism, by means of uprisings in individual countries, with the subsequent merger of these upheavals into a general European revolution.
“The victorious European revolution, however, no matter how its course in isolated countries may be fashioned, can, in consequence of the absence of other revolutionary classes, transfer the power only to the proletariat. Consequently the United States of Europe represents the form - the only conceivable form - of the dictatorship of the European proletariat.”
But Paul conceded there may be other left remainers besides Michael Chessum and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty: “Suppose the left remainers were absolutely right, and the international working class has a compelling interest in continued British membership of the European Union. It would then simply be the case that there was a commonality of interest with finance capital in making that happen - and a limited common front on that issue would be no more unprincipled than trade union support for Liberal legislation in the unions’ favour in the 19th century, or for that matter many of the electoral arrangements between the Bolsheviks and the liberal bourgeois parties in pre-revolutionary Russia.”
Left remainers are absolutely right, despite the opportunism of some. And Paul is, of course, right: it was unprincipled of Michael Chessum to take the £70,000 cheque from Soros. But he nonetheless concedes that it is possible to be a left remainer and still be principled. “Chessum’s peculiar bedfellows” do not “give the lie to the sagacity of his electoral advice”, he says, but he needs far better arguments than that to make a case against left ‘remain’.
The problem is that the internationalism of revolutionary socialism is a marginal political stance today. Paul seems to suggest it is not principled to be a Brexiteer/Lexiteer and remain true to socialist principles. But if you take no stance at all - in the tradition of third campists like Max Shachtman and Hal Draper - then no-one can accuse you of anything apart from abstentionism.
Paul B Smith makes one very good point in his article, ‘Into the swamp’ - a “review” of Yuri Slezkine’s The house of government:
“The Marxist belief in the possibility of a classless future is thoroughly secular. The notion of classlessness depends on the ideas that it is possible to end the capitalist division of labour, create an abundance of products sufficient to meet people’s needs, shorten the time necessary to reproduce society through the use of robots, enlarge the amount of time individuals have to develop their creativity and sociability, generate surpluses controlled by producers and democratise the planning process within a global society” (Weekly Worker July 12).
Actually, it is the only good point - the rest is complete drivel and nonsense. Some sections appear to be psychedelically driven. And even PBS’s one good point is flawed. I don’t think there were many “robots” around in Marx’s time. Central to Marxism is the fact that labour is the source of all created value and wealth. In a society run by and in the interests of working people, the existing means and capacity of production and distribution would be more than adequate to ensure that all working people had access to all the basic means of life, housing, food, water, health, education, culture, etc.
Two basic reasons: One, the removal of the capitalist class and the abolition of the extreme, unequal allocation of existing wealth and income in society; Two, the removal of the profit motive would itself allow the existing productive forces of wealth and value to increase massively in order to meet human need. A third factor is that the elimination of non-useful, wasteful and destructive production would itself create and free up massive additional productive capacity to meet human needs.
The stupendous increase in socially useful production from existing production capacities would also enable massive reductions in the average working day, week, year and lifetime, freeing up substantial time for working people to engage in culture, education, voluntary work and contributions to engage fully in the running of society and the economy. The introduction of robots cannot but help this paradigm shift, but they are hardly central.
PBS states: “I do not know a single person who has respect for any of Stalin’s writings.” I just find that incredibly arrogant and offensive. I assume PBS from his lofty attitude is employed in some academic ivory tower. He writes occasionally on the Soviet Union, but refuses to read one of the principal protagonists in its creation and development. So he has no real idea of the challenges, ideas, choices, debates and opportunities which were literally the lifeblood of real, living, vibrant Soviet society in the 1920s and 30s. He therefore disqualifies himself from having or expressing any opinion on the subject.
Marx, Engels and Lenin were the scientific pioneers of a potential socialist alternative to capitalist society, but Stalin and his leadership team were actually engaged in the immeasurably more challenging and difficult tasks of not only establishing socialism in an extremely backward country and in an extremely hostile international environment, but consolidating, developing it and ensuring by the early 1930s it had not only become the dominant socio-economic system in the USSR, but one capable of withstanding external threats.
Stalin’s writings are actually extremely good. He speaks clearly, articulates complex points and issues in ways most people can grasp. He weighs alternatives and evaluates their merits and demerits, and arrives at considered, balanced conclusions. His reports to Communist Party congresses were always balanced, self-critical and challenging. The undoubted successes and achievement of the Soviet socialist system were never allowed to generate complacency or loss of forward momentum.
As part of the leadership core which successfully established, defended, consolidated and led the triumph of Soviet socialism by the early 1930s, Stalin contributed massively to the development of Marxism-Leninism - the theory and practice of how the working class can liberate itself and thereby the whole of humankind. He clearly recognised and articulated that the “overthrown classes” and “the people of the past” still in numbers and influence represented a resentful, angry and increasingly desperate opposition and hatred of the new socialist system.
Stalin’s comprehensive and thoughtful analyses of the dramatically changing international situation, the overall development of world capitalism and imperialism, the rising contradictions and rivalries between capitalist states, the sharpening contradictions and class struggles within those states, the role of social democracy, etc and the contradictions between world capitalism and imperialism and Soviet socialism, in the 1930s were extremely profound and stand the test of time (eg, his reports to the 17th and 18th CPSU congresses in 1934 and 1939).
I think Stalin contributed additionally and specifically to the concepts of socialist agriculture and the national question. He was ferociously focused on ensuring the strategy for socialisation of agriculture, built carefully and steadily on existing, emerging cooperative and collective practices: the complex class stratification of the peasantry had to be understood and the working masses had to be worked with and persuaded to develop collective and ultimately state farms (eg, ‘Dizzy with success’ Works Vol 12, p197).
Stalin’s thoughts on the development of a universal language, the national question, the merging of nations, etc were, I think, extremely considered, balanced and extraordinarily brilliant (eg, Works Vol 12, pp373-83) - and actually extraordinarily relevant to our current conversations about the European Union and Brexit.
Stalin as a proletarian Bolshevik revolutionary demonstrates intellect, sophistication and communication skills far in advance of most of ‘our’ middle class academics. I suspect that a lofty refusal to read Stalin and positively engage with his thoughts and arguments is a simplistic and obvious cover for not having the will or capability to do so.
But PBS’s article had one positive outcome: I bought the book and it is a powerful, sobering and fascinating read.
Jack Conrad is essentially correct in his criticism of my description of the African National Congress programme as “social democratic” (‘Not social democracy’, September 27).
The 1955 Freedom Charter was, of course, largely drawn up by the South African Communist Party and should be seen in the context of the SACP’s own programme for a two-stage revolution. The first stage - the national democratic revolution - aimed to overthrow apartheid and introduce wide-ranging democratic and pro-worker reforms, while key sectors of the economy would be “transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole”. In other words, a programme of large-scale nationalisation - although, according to the SACP’s 1989 The path to power, “At the same time, the state will protect the interests of private business, where these are not incompatible with the public interest.”
But the intention was to proceed as swiftly as possible to the second stage - the ‘official communist’ version of socialism - although the SACP programme warned that prior to the complete victory over apartheid it was essential to maintain “the unity in action of the oppressed and democratic forces around the basic national democratic demands”; and added: “To weaken this unity by placing the attainment of socialism on the immediate agenda would, in fact, be to postpone the very attainment of socialist transformation.”
However, “Victory in the national democratic revolution is, for our working class, the most direct route to socialism and ultimately communism” - and the Freedom Charter ought to be read in that context. In other words, it was not intended to be an end in itself, as the term ‘social democratic’ implies.
Nevertheless, when today those who have become disillusioned with the SACP’s leadership hark back to the good old days and call for the full implementation of the Freedom Charter, they do not see it as just the first stage. After all, the SACP’s programme saw “international support” - in the shape of the Soviet Union and other “socialist countries” - as a key factor, while today things are obviously rather different.
It is true that those like Irvin Jim, general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, still talk about socialism as their ultimate aim, but in reality their programme tends to be limited by the confines of the Freedom Charter. In that sense - in the context of today’s rebellion against the SACP, when the Freedom Charter is detached from the two-stage programme of old - it can be regarded as social democratic: ie, limited to the winning of a range of reforms under capitalism.