In response to Michael Roberts’ article on climate change, I think there are a number of points that people have not yet accepted about the state of the climate (‘The cause, not the solution’, October 18).
Despite the attention that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gets when it issues its reports, the body itself is conservative in its assessments. It ignores a lot of data that has been emerging, sticking to highly peer-reviewed and widely accepted material in order to give itself the strongest possible cover against flak from denialists. It is also a political body, whose output has to be approved by national representatives in the United Nations, and is still subject to all the same restraints in terms of not appearing to run against the market. It has tailored its assessments since its inception in 1988 to make it appear friendly to business, and friendly to market-based solutions. Scientists that have investigated earlier predictions by the IPCC show that they have underestimated many of the trends that we are seeing today.
One example of this is in the rate of the loss of ice in the Arctic. Originally, it was thought that we would have to wait until way into the second half of the 21st century until we saw an ice-free summer in the Arctic circle. However, the Arctic has lost about four million square kilometres of ice - when measured at its lowest extent at the end of the summer thaw - between 1980 and today, and in terms of the volume of ice the situation is even worse, with practically all thick multi-year ice having disappeared, except for a very small area in northern Canada and Greenland. The ice in the Arctic is now extremely thin and ‘slushy’ and more easily broken up by waves and winds. An ice-free Arctic in the summer could be a matter of years away, and almost certain by 2030.
The IPCC has in the past talked about the risk of ‘non-linear’ feedbacks in the climate system if temperatures are allowed to rise beyond the rather artificial 1.5-2˚C guard rail. These include things such as albedo loss in the Arctic, permafrost thaw, burn-off of vegetation in tropical latitudes, and increased microbe activity in soils releasing carbon through decomposition. The first of these involves sea-ice melting, exposing large areas of dark ocean which absorbs about 80% of solar heat instead of reflecting it back into space. This feedback has been largely to blame for this process of ‘Arctic amplification’, where heating has been concentrated strongly in high northern latitudes.
The concentration of heat in the far north has already led to serious weakening in the jet-stream, which is kept in place by the differential in southern and northern temperatures, and keeps weather predictable and stable in the northern hemisphere. Air is now flowing much more slowly and the pattern has become wavy, with deep troughs extending far into the south, periodically bringing prolonged very cold snaps, as we experienced in March and April this year, as well as also pushing bursts of very warm southern air into the arctic in the opposite direction. It also has meant weather patterns becoming stuck, with heat waves lasting much longer.
As is well pointed out in Michael’s piece, the IPCC has stated that greenhouse gas emissions have to be reduced by 45% globally, within the next 10 years, to even have a chance of hitting the 1.5˚ threshold. However, most climate scientists know that it is next to impossible to keep temperatures below this level. Even if all greenhouse gas emissions were ended immediately, the Earth will continue to warm, because CO2 in the atmosphere takes about 10 years to reach its full effect in the atmosphere. Most of it is first sequestered in the ocean, causing the crisis of oceanic acidification, and creating a large amount of lag, meaning we have not yet felt the full effect of the 400 or so gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent emitted since 2008.
The IPCC has also played with the numbers, by using the 1850-1900 temperatures as the baseline, where the world had already experienced about 0.3˚C of temperature rise by this point. In the Paris Climate Agreement the only means of cooking the books to make it seem as though the pledges have been kept to keep temperatures from rising by 2˚C is by relying on so-called geo-engineering techniques like pulling carbon out of the atmosphere. As Michael pointed out, the pledges themselves, even if they were kept, would not even keep temperatures within 3˚C.
Eddie Ford’s reporting of the October 20 demo and the Brexit debate in general seemed to be moving away from your allegedly neutralist/abstentionist, ‘working class independence’ position towards support for a hard Brexit of the kind favoured by the Communist Party of Britain/Morning Star (‘Establishment fights back’, October 25).
By describing what he calls ‘Brino’ (‘Brexit in name only’) as “the worst of all worlds”, he implies that what is popularly described as the ‘Norway’ option (ie, soft Brexit) is worse than the hard ‘Canada’ option or the very hard ‘No deal’ favoured by Jacob Rees-Mogg, etc.
He contemptuously described the People’s Vote march as “essentially a gathering of liberals - a demonstration in defence of the status quo”. It is, to say the least, interesting that The Socialist, whose avowed stance is for a “socialist Brexit”, took a much more sympathetic view of the mass of participants on the march, as opposed to what they rightly call “the capitalist politicians who headed it”, pointing out that “some were marching to show their internationalism and opposition to the ‘Little Englander’ Tory hard Brexiteers, others because of worries about job losses and economic dislocation”.
Whilst I regard the SP’s belief in the possibility of a “socialist Brexit” as delusional, they are correct in saying that “No Brexit negotiated by the Tories will be in the interests of the majority” - a much clearer stance than that taken in recent Weekly Worker articles, whose fire has been entirely concentrated on ‘left remainers’. Given the current miniscule size of the Marxist left in the UK and the sharp decline in the number of trade unionists in recent decades, any very large demonstration in London (with the possible exception of the TUC-sponsored March for the Alternative in 2011) is bound to include many people who you might sarcastically choose to characterise as “liberals”, but, significantly, you did not choose to dismiss the February 2003 demo against the Iraq war, or more recent large demos in defence of the NHS, in this way.
I would also like to point out that the speaking tour promoted by the AWL was entitled ‘The left against Brexit’, not ‘The left for Europe’, as comrade Ford carelessly claimed - this is not nit-picking, since the actual title had a clearer, more activist focus that did not imply either uncritical support for the EU or nebulous visions of ‘Europe’. His assertion that “there is nothing leftwing about Another Europe is Possible” is outrageous. As somebody who marched with their bloc on October 20, I would point out that the group were carrying red flags, not EU flags, chanted pro-migrant slogans, as well as anti-Blair and anti-Clegg slogans, at various times sang the Internationale, the Red Flag and Bandiera Rossa and, because many of them were wearing ‘Love Corbyn, hate Brexit’ T-shirts, got quite a lot of anti-Corbyn abuse from Lib Dems (and/or Blairites).
I would add that the Europe for the Many conference on October 26-27, organised by Another Europe is Possible, was predominantly “leftwing” in terms of both speakers and attendees - most of those I spoke to were Corbynite members of the Labour Party, and there were some interventions from the floor by members of Left Unity and Socialist Resistance.
Doubtless, what seems to be an obsessive emphasis on George Soros in recent Weekly Worker articles on Brexit is not intended as an endorsement of Ian Donovan’s more bizarre theories, but surely you are aware how central Soros has become to the rhetoric of Viktor Orbán and Matteo Salvini, and indeed to the actions of the Trumpite US terrorist bomber? A number of other wealthy businessmen have subsidised various ‘remain’ campaigns, and the sources of ‘leave’ finances are even murkier - Arron Banks’s funding of Trade Unionists against the EU is merely the tip of the iceberg - so a little sense of perspective is in order here if you wish to keep your distance from the conspiracy theories of far-right Brexiteers.
Finally, your continuing use of the front-page strapline, “Towards a Communist Party of the European Union”, seems to contradict your current position on Brexit - I can’t be the only reader puzzled by this apparent lack of coherence.
When an estimated 600,000 march for a People’s Vote, then something significant is happening. Add to this the equal pay strike by women in Glasgow and we can see a serious crisis brewing up. Divisions at the top and people on the streets are a significant combination.
Previously I have highlighted three democratic demands:
- For a democratic exit.
- For a ratification referendum.
- For a democratic England in a democratic Europe.
There is a sharp distinction between ‘democratic exit’ and ‘remain’ (and ‘left remain’). Even an idiot can recognise that. There is also a clear difference between a ratification referendum and a second/repeat referendum. The former says, ‘Do you support or reject the Tory deal?’ The latter says for a second time. ‘Do you want to remain in the EU?’
A democratic exit means carrying out the democratic mandate from 2016, when Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain and England and Wales voted to leave. This has been called the Denmark-Greenland option. The Tories never had any intention of respecting the democratic mandates given by the people of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
English chauvinists do not recognise ‘Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales’ as having any political meaning. The Tories recognise their chums in the Democratic Unionist Party, helping them to steal the referendum result with the slogan, “Brexit means Brexit”. It means whatever they want. May is now desperately trying to construct a deal which satisfies big business and the City of London and keeps the Tory Party from destroying itself.
For May and the Tories it is a ‘deal’ or ‘no deal’. If ‘no deal’, then she has failed and must hand over the keys of Downing Street. That will surely mean a new Tory leader and the demand for a general election would become unstoppable. If the Tories then refused a general election the working class would surely take to the streets.
If May comes up with any deal, then there will be a ratification process. Labour and the CPGB have placed their trust in parliament to decide. No democrat would trust this rotten parliament. On democratic grounds the people have the right to scrutinise the Tory deal and ‘recall’ the government. Any deal with the EU must be made accountable to the people - the vast majority being working class people.
The Labour leadership thinks parliament will block the deal and thus force May out or a general election. But who might back May’s deal and sabotage Corbyn? The answer is surely some Labour MPs who were on the march. In the Evening Standard (October 23) Anne McElvoy says, “the opposition, rather than the government, will decide the endgame of Brexit negotiations”.
She explains: “A sizeable number of Labour MPs regard Brexit as too important to be left to the mercies of a leadership (ie, Corbyn) whose only interest in negotiations is as a tactical tool to bring about a quick general election”. Hence the Tories are counting on securing enough Labour support to get the deal through parliament.
If the Tory deal gets through the Commons, then it is goodbye to a Corbyn government for a few more years. May will be declared a hero who saved the country. Surely Labour MPs would not betray their leader? Downing Street would only need about 20 or 30 Labour traitors who would ‘save jobs’ as an act of patriotic duty, and torpedo Corbyn at the same time.
The Israeli embassy could not have come up with a better plot than that. McElvoy reports that “Camp Corbyn is starting to realise it cannot rely on MPs it has treated with disdain to vote down any imaginable deal”. It is naive for the CPGB to support parliamentary ratification against the right of the people to decide. This is why a ratification referendum is the people’s democratic backstop.
The Tory government and the Brexit gang have ruled it out. Labour has not ruled it out, but has kicked it into the long grass with much vacillation and confusion. Labour is calling instead for a general election. This is not going to happen unless May is overthrown, either by Tory MPs and the DUP, or the Commons, or by defeat in a ratification referendum.
If May gets a deal she is safe from the Tories until the deal is put to parliament. If it gets through parliament, she will likely make it to the next scheduled general election. Hence there are three hurdles for May’s survival. The first depends on the Tories and DUP, the second on rightwing Labour MPs and the third depends on the people, the majority of whom are working class. A ratification referendum will not reverse the 2016 result, but it could be the best or last chance to defeat May.
John Bridge says in response to Moshé Machover, “According to Moshé, Marx is of the view that value - ie, exchange-value, as opposed to use-value - exists ‘under any form of social organisation’” (Letters, October 25).
But this starts from a fundamental error: equating exchange value with value. But these are two entirely separate categories and concepts, as Marx sets out in his letter to Kugelmann, as well as in Capital Vol 1 and in more detail in Theories of surplus value. Indeed, as he says, it is impossible to have the concept of exchange-value, and from there money, or prices, unless first you have value!
Value is labour and, as labour is undertaken in all forms of society, there is value in all modes of production. And Marx says so, in his letter to Kugelmann, in explaining the law of value. Marx makes the same point in Capital Vol 1, in setting out the example of Robinson Crusoe, whose labour only interacts with nature. Marx illustrates what value is in that example by the fact that Crusoe is led to measure the amount of time (how much labour-time) it takes him to produce various things he requires. This, Marx says, tells us all we need to know about value:
“All the relations between Robinson and the objects that form this wealth of his own creation are here so simple and clear as to be intelligible without exertion ... And yet those relations contain all that is essential to the determination of value.”
But Crusoe does not produce commodities. He exchanges with no-one and so his products, whilst having individual value, as well as use-value, are not exchange-values. They are subject to the law of value, for the reason that Marx describes in his letter to Kugelmann: ie, as representatives of his social labour-time, a social-labour-time that is limited. A decision to have more of one use-value is simultaneously a decision to have less of some other use-value that could have been produced by that labour-time.
And this is the fundamental basis upon which individual values of products become transformed, as a result of trade, into the exchange values of commodities. It is precisely because products, produced in any mode of production, are embodiments of social labour, that the quantity of social labour embodied in these different products can even begin to be brought into comparison one with another, as a result of trade, so that the value of a product becomes expressed, for the first time in history, as an exchange-value - the quantity of some other use-value that can be obtained in exchange for it.
It is exchange-value, not value itself, which is specific to commodity production. As Engels put it, “As long ago as 1844 I stated that the above-mentioned balancing of useful effects and expenditure of labour on making decisions concerning production was all that would be left, in a communist society, of the politico-economic concept of value (Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher p95). The scientific justification for this statement, however, as can be seen, was made possible only by Marx’s Capital” (Anti-Dühring, chapter 26).
And Marx himself writes: “Secondly, after the abolition of the capitalist mode of production, but still retaining social production, the determination of value continues to prevail, in the sense that the regulation of labour-time and the distribution of social labour among the various production groups - ultimately the book-keeping encompassing all this - become more essential than ever” (Capital Vol 3, chapter 49).
Value is labour, and wherever free labour is performed in the production of use values it produces value. That value initially takes the form of a product, or a labour service, with an individual value, determined by the specific labour used for its production. As these products begin to be exchanged - at first irregularly, usually as part of ceremonies, between communities, and then more regularly as trade - so the individual values of those products take the form of social or market values, determined by the amount of average social labour-time required for their production, as determined by the production of those products by a range of producers. These market values are still initially values: ie, measured by the amount of labour-time required for production.
It is only as a result of regularised trade of these products that these market values - the amount of average social labour required for production - becomes the basis for determining an objective basis for the rate of exchange of one commodity for another, which Marx describes in Capital Vol 1, chapter 3, as the stage of the relative form of value. That is an exchange value, where each commodity is measured by the rate at which it exchanges for every other individual commodity.
As trade progresses, and some commodities are traded more regularly than others, these regularly traded commodities become the way that the exchange-value of other commodities - or what Marx calls the equivalent form of value - are measured, until one of these is singled out to represent all commodities as the measure of exchange-value: the universal equivalent form, or money commodity.
Andrew Northall makes some useful and correct points when he demonstrates the confusion and contradictions in the descriptions Jack Conrad makes of the huge leaps in human development within the Soviet Union up to 1961 (Letters, October 25). That is, the period of Stalin’s leadership and just beyond, which Conrad says was a period of “counterrevolution within the revolution”.
Even Trotsky, in Revolution betrayed, was forced to acknowledge the enormous successes achieved by the Bolshevik Party-led USSR by 1936 - but solely to avoid losing credibility, as he renewed his endless predictions of the inevitable ‘collapse’ of its ‘bureaucratic’ leadership. Such enormous successes were not supposed to be achievable, according to his previous 1923 New Course predictions of ‘doom’, and so some concessions to reality were needed.
Even today, some Trotskyists will make similar concessions; on China, for example, by feigning to concede that it remains a workers’ state, whilst spreading defeatism and demoralisation with their endless predictions of “disaster” due to its alleged “bureaucratic degeneracy” or “deformity”.
Unfortunately, Northall does not take up the biggest argument against all the “Stalin’s regime was counterrevolutionary” claims - that of the gigantic world-significant change in 1989-91, when there really was a counterrevolution (or, more accurately speaking, a liquidation of the still viable Soviet Union), which would have been of no import if the USSR had been some form of capitalism. He leaves out how and why things had gone so disastrously wrong in the Soviet Union. He also fails to point out that the endless circular debates on the nature of the Soviet Union within the pages of the Weekly Worker never gets to the point of explaining why any of this is of relevance to the working class today in terms of understanding current domestic and world developments, and the measures needed to end capitalism and build, and defend, a new society based on socialist relations.
He gets it hopelessly wrong when he lauds Lars T Lih’s supposedly “pioneering” series of articles published in the Weekly Worker last year, which allegedly “proved beyond any reasonable doubt” that Lenin’s famous April theses (1917) were just a continuation of Lenin and Bolshevik revolutionary theory to date and that the then Stalin-Kamenev local leadership of the Bolshevik Party (before Lenin arrived in Petrograd) was completely in line with that thinking. Far from it: Lih’s work is a confused muddle, built on sophistry, innuendo and obfuscation that completely fails to understand Lenin’s April theses battle for understanding against the Bolshevik leadership over the nature of the February revolution, and the tactical responses the proletarian party then needed to take.
Whilst correctly arguing against the Trotskyist claim that, in making his theses, Lenin had been won over by Trotsky’s “permanent revolution” gibberish and had ditched old Bolshevik “stagism”, Lih goes too far in the other direction in his assertion that there was little difference between Lenin and the Moscow Bolsheviks.
Although, in general, the Bolshevik theory (developed and elaborated from 1905’s revolutionary upheaval) - that a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry would be needed to push forwards and complete the bourgeois revolution - was correct, the context of Russia’s bourgeois revolution in February 1917 was one of a rapid intensification of the capitalist contradictions resulting from the inter-imperialist world war, on top of the rapid economic development, which had taken place since 1905. This meant that things turned out differently and unexpectedly: specifically in that the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship had already come into existence in the February events, simultaneously with and alongside the bourgeoisie removing the tsar and taking over the state, resulting in what Lenin described as a “dual power” - a new phenomenon.
This meant the old Bolshevik theory had been made obsolete by a newly emerging reality.
The “old Bolsheviks” had failed to appreciate that the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship had already been realised in the form of the soviets of workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ deputies. But, though having arisen, its overwhelmingly petty-bourgeois constituency (the peasant majority in Russia) had immediately started to cede its power to the provisional government of the big bourgeoisie and landowners.
Lenin’s forceful arguments, sustained over a period of two weeks against this “old Bolshevik” shortfall in understanding, were necessary because their attachment to a now out-of-date theory was leading them to make dangerous strategic errors.
Their tactic was to break the soviets away from the provisional bourgeois government, who were for the continuation of Russia’s involvement in the inter-imperialist war, by provisionally supporting it, but making demands for peace, which they said would expose the government when it failed to act on them. They mistakenly saw this as the route towards establishing a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship, which they were anticipating at some point in the future. This dangerously spread pacifist illusions and inadvertently backed up the petty-bourgeois “defencist” position of participating in the war to “defend the revolution”, as Stalin later admitted in Trotskyism or Leninism? (1924).
For Lenin, the task was now to split the proletarian, semi-proletarian and poor peasants in the soviets away from such conciliatory petty-bourgeois influences by advocating steps towards socialism. These steps were not aimed at realising the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship in full, but to prepare the revolutionary masses for the socialist revolution, which could take place once the majority had become convinced of its necessity. This materialist perspective, recognising that it was not possible to leap past the peasantry, rescued Marx’s and Engels’ permanent, or uninterrupted, revolution from Trotsky’s subjective-idealist nonsense.
Nowhere in any of Lih’s lengthy articles does he explain Lenin’s position that the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship had already been realised by February; and so, when he speaks of “agreement” between Lenin and the “old Bolsheviks” over the need for a “worker-peasant vlast” (the Russian word for ‘power’ to which he attributes some supposedly different import to the English in an effort to give his ‘theory’ greater import), he is taking the old Bolshevik’s line and attempting to present it as Lenin’s as well. The workers and peasants had already taken power, albeit in an embryonic form. Northall does manage to say this at least.
Lih’s confusion is compounded by his failure to describe the state in Marxist terms as a class dictatorship. In fact, he only ever uses the term ‘dictatorship’ when quoting others. He does not recognise it. And so all his talk of “worker-peasant vlast” becomes meaningless. He does not even explain the necessity of revolution. Instead, he attempts to resurrect Kautsky’s notions of “pure democracy”. But the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of February 1917 was not the same as the proletarian dictatorship of October. History had moved on. A new, socialist, revolution had taken place. The workers were now in power, led by the Bolsheviks, and in alliance with the poor peasantry.
Northall extols the virtues of the 1961 CPSU programme, as “it’s the reassertion of the leading role of the Communist Party and ultimately to the democratic communist vision and strategy set out in the 1961 CPSU programme” after the death of Stalin, but says nothing of the huge philosophical difficulties that the party leadership had already got themselves into by then, under Stalin.
Stalin’s post-war revisionist illusions in the impossibility of further expansion for imperialism and, from this, its containability by ‘peace struggle’, which led CPs throughout the world into the notion of a ‘peaceful road to socialism’ and Moscow into delusions of a permanent peaceful coexistence with the ‘good’ imperialist powers (rather than peaceful coexistence being an historically temporary tactic to achieve some breathing space for the USSR) had gone so far that, by 1947, Harry Pollitt, Moscow’s approved leader of the British Communist Party, was arguing that “it is possible to see how the people will move towards socialism without further revolution, without the dictatorship of the proletariat”.
EPSR supporter, Leeds
There is a small error in my piece on Michael Bettaney, which originated with me (‘Tinker, tailor, soldier, Marxist’ October 25). I quote Michael from a letter that appeared in The Leninist (March 18 1988) as stating: “I would probably be regarded as a ‘centrist today’...” This should have read: “I would probably be regarded as a ‘centrist toady’...” ‘Toady’, in this instance, meaning sycophantic or obsequious towards the Soviet Union.
Talking of toadies, I saw my local Communist Party of Britain supporter on Saturday (very much a one-man band), who tersely asked me if I hadn’t got anything better to do than write articles about “really dodgy characters” such as Bettaney. Given that my usually amiable CPB friend still gets incredibly misty-eyed over the industrial ‘wonders’ of the Soviet Union, there is a certain irony in his wanting to line up with the establishment. But, then, at least it’s ‘our’ British establishment.
And, no, I haven’t got anything better to do, comrade.