I readily admit I’m a terrible public speaker and, moreover, I was ill-prepared for my intervention at the December 9 CPGB aggregate. Even so, I barely recognise what Peter Manson made of my arguments in his report (‘Debating our strategy and tactics’, December 13). It is comrade Manson’s right as editor to highlight fillers such as “Maybe it’s just me” to make me look like an imbecile - but, personal vanity aside, some quotations are plainly inaccurate and the overall impression is misleading.
To his credit, the comrade already apologised in an email that he “probably misunderstood a couple of things or misinterpreted [his] notes”. No hard feelings - I hope my corrections will help to clarify where I stand. My apologies in advance in the unlikely case that my memory deceives me.
Comrade Manson reports that I spoke of a “conspiratorial element that attributes omnipotence to Israel” and implies, albeit ambiguously, that I believe I have detected that element in the pages of the Weekly Worker. In fact, I have not found any such sentiments in the Weekly Worker. I said that such views are not uncommon in the Palestine solidarity milieu and broader left, where one encounters an eclectic mix of reactionary and progressive anti-Zionisms.
I did not say that people who are prone to interpret the world in conspiratorial terms are “proto-anti-Semites” - I said that reactionary forms of anti-Zionism that transparently borrow structural features from the ‘socialism of fools’ are a kind of “proto-anti-Semitism”. A difference of nuance, but an important one: I detest witch-hunts of individuals, and I do not feel that shortcomings in their thinking should make them into pariahs quite so easily.
According to comrade Manson, I said that Zionism “had originated as an ideology of an oppressed people, but had become reactionary, maybe once settlers arrived in Palestine and started to remove the native population from their land”.
I said no such thing. I said that Zionism originated as a ‘nationalism of the oppressed’ and became a ‘nationalism of the oppressor’, expressing a certain scepticism about that dichotomy. However, I also made clear that Zionism was reactionary from the beginning, stressing that oppression doesn’t necessarily bring out the best in us individually or collectively. The purpose of my amendment was simply to highlight that Zionism is no singular evil - a truism for Marxists, but maybe less obvious for certain single-issue anti-Zionists. Contrary to comrade Manson’s report, I gave no cut-off point along the lines of “maybe once settlers arrived in Palestine” - in this instance, another speaker’s words were put in my mouth.
The report cites me as saying that I’m “embarrassed” by the Weekly Worker’s excessive anti-Zionist copy. True enough, I did wonder out loud to what extent my misgivings might be aesthetical - that is, whether the sheer quantity of pages devoted to anti-Zionist polemic, coupled with sometime crudity in tone, triggered some kind of adverse reaction.
However, I think my issues concern more than aesthetics. Our slogan, ‘Anti-Zionism does not equal anti-Semitism’, is essentially correct, but in practice we seem to operate under the assumption that anti-Zionism is never anti-Semitic. In reality, there exists reactionary anti-Zionism just as there exists reactionary anti-imperialism and reactionary anti-capitalism - I’m happy to provide examples in another letter if necessary. And while those with backward views ought to be educated, not excommunicated, you still have to call a spade a spade to facilitate this - not feebly explain away even the most appalling blunders.
What’s more, if we shout ‘Zionism’, ‘Israel’ and ‘witch-hunt’ even when those themes are far from manifest - see George Soros/Another Europe Is Possible or the ultra-lame campaign against David Icke - we do part of our adversaries’ work for them by conflating things that do not belong together. To be clear, it is not anti-Semitic to criticise George Soros Foundation funding of ‘leftwing’ campaigns - but it is not a good idea to invoke Zionism when nobody else does.
Finally, on the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. This argument began on our internal email list, where some comrades argued the group was no longer part of the left. Now, the AWL may be a wretched organisation that regularly issues apologies for profit-driven mass murder. It has also played a scabby and contemptible role in the witch-hunt of Labour Party and Momentum members (alas, the same is true for a number of non-AWL lefts, who have acquired a Blockwart mentality in the name of anti-racism). However, as long as it operates in the labour movement, self-conceives as Marxist and actively pursues some sort of ‘strategy’ to obtain a socialist society - unexceptional Trot economism, in the AWL’s case - I’m afraid we have to deal with the fact that it remains part of the left. An organisation such as ours is in no position to drive it out it by sheer wishful thinking.
I do not think the AWL has reached quite the same level of degeneration as Spiked or the ‘anti-Germans’, and I didn’t hear any convincing arguments to the contrary at the aggregate. If hostility to the left becomes the group’s defining feature and raison d’être in the future, we may reconsider that assessment.
In your report of the CPGB aggregate, you say that I “was at pains, for obvious reasons, to stress that [I] was not a CPGB supporter”. This is incorrect. What I actually said was that it had been alleged that I am a CPGB supporter, but I neither denied nor confirmed that allegation.
The report of the CPGB aggregate provides more evidence for the case that the motion on withdrawal from the European Union failed, as I argued last week, to identify and support the interests of the working class.
The 2016 EU referendum divided the working class into three main camps - ‘leave’, ‘remain’ and abstain/boycott. After the result these were out of date. Neither abstain nor boycott had any significance outside the campaign. New positions appeared, identifiable as ‘British exit’ (Mogg and May, etc), ‘remain’ democrats (Corbyn and McCluskey, etc) and ‘remain’ liberals (Soubry, Blair and Chuka Umunna, etc).
‘Remain’ democrats accept the result as relating to a divided working class. This means continuing to expose ballot corruption and gerrymandering. But it means accepting some kind of exit at least until a clear majority of the working class recognises the advantages of ‘remain’. The experience of the Brexit crisis helps the working class find the truth.
‘Some kind of exit’ is important here. Corbyn and Labour stand on the right wing of the ‘remain’ democrats. They have formulated a programme that all the UK should remain in a customs union, which does not undercut EU regulations on workers’ rights, etc. Taking the UK out of the single market means abandoning ‘freedom of movement’ and is very close to May’s Brexit deal.
Corbyn and the Labour leadership are ‘remain’ democrats who have opportunistically adapted to a section of the working class hostile to freedom of movement. This has its roots in rightwing chauvinism and racism, promoted in Tory arguments about EU migration.
The left side of ‘remain’ democrats stand for a different kind of exit. This recognises the UK as a multi-nation state and accepts that Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain. The working class must fight for their right to remain. England and Wales voted to leave the EU, but not the single market or customs. This is consistent with maintaining freedom of movement through the UK and the EU.
‘Remain’ democrats must demand the right of the working class to vote for or against whatever Brexit deal the Tories come up with. We demand a national debate and a ratification-only referendum. Both ‘leave’ and ‘remain’ workers can unite on this, whilst being bitterly divided on a repeat ‘remain’ ballot.
There are thus left ‘leave’, left ‘remain’ and left ‘remain’ democrats. The CPGB is so focused on its own battles with left ‘leave’ (Socialist Workers Party) and left ‘remain’ (AWL) that it has failed to address the central question. This is how to advance working class interests and unity in a world in which a majority of the class were swayed by reactionary arguments.
The CPGB do not align themselves with any of the three mass camps. They rejected both left ‘leave’ and left ‘remain’. With no policy, other than criticising other left sects, we end up sounding like Buddhist monks practising their own moral purity.
This is exactly what Moshé Machover criticised the CPGB for at the aggregate. He asks “what is in the interests of the working class”, because this is not addressed. The interests of the class “had nothing to do with the state of the left”. Yet the “state of the left” is the only thing the CPGB is concerned about.
Moshé is clear that the working class is better in than out, without saying how that can be advanced independently of liberal ‘remain’ and their left tail. Leaving the EU, as Moshé says, “would see a decline in worker’s standard of living”, etc. He is quite right to say, “All this was missing from the CPGB position.”
Mike Macnair blamed the working class for this gaping hole. He says that, although ‘remain’ and ‘leave’ was a tactical question for the working class, “if there was a radical and thriving international workers’ movement - picking up a good number of votes across Europe, for instance, and enjoying an influential presence in the European parliament - we would certainly ‘want to fight alongside our European brothers and sisters’”.
Of course, Jack Conrad recognised Moshé’s criticism made the CPGB position indefensible. So after lunch he stressed “the CPGB’s opposition to withdrawal”. Great news, although it leaves open whether the CPGB positions itself on the left wing of ‘remain’ democrats (Corbyn, etc) or left wing of ‘remain’ liberals (Blair, etc).
The only fly in the ointment is the failure to recognise the major difference between a ratification referendum for the working class and the liberals’ repeat ‘remain’ one for business profits. But, if May fails to win a majority for her deal, then she is finished and a general election is more or less inevitable.
In his letter last week, comrade Steve Freeman observed: “The CPGB does not address immediate questions beyond boycotting everything ... Stop the class struggle, because we are not ready. Perhaps this is like an airplane in a holding pattern circulating around Heathrow airport waiting to land and hoping the bad weather changes before we run out of fuel.”
It occurs to me the expression, ‘Am I talking to the right person, here?’, would deliver both an alternative and an even more concise slant on things. The simple energy of it intended to bring immediacy within an otherwise complex setting; to convey frustration - or even brewing despair - when things are not going well within a working relationship.
Actually, that question now should be posed in the context of ‘Where the hell are you?’ on the ‘gilets jaunes’ uprising, these so-called riots - the sustained street action and occupations of schools and colleges, etc, which French government elites themselves are beginning to regard as full-on insurrectional.
Yet another expression that comes to mind points out the ‘crocodile in the swimming pool’. It’s an extension of the proverbial ‘elephant in the room’, but a step up in harshness, as well as implying a far greater degree of urgency. Maybe the most extreme attempt to encourage growth within recalcitrant situations or by intransigent individuals would be to suggest a snake ‘living in our toilet pan’?
Comrades at Weekly Worker/CPGB (and even Labour Party Marxists) will take the points being made, I hope. If so, a ‘softly shimmering halo of all but celestial opalescence’ awaits us, as it forms over our shared futurescape - our communistic destiny.
I’d like to congratulate Jack Conrad on his well-researched and balanced article, ‘Whatever happened to peak oil?’ (December 6). The only thing I would question is the predicted reserves of coal.
Coal is, of course, a finite resource, but decline in outputs is not necessarily associated with the level of remaining reserves. Indeed, as Jack says, production and reserves have considerably increased, as overall British levels of production and demand have declined. It must be said, however, that overall output per man-shift continued to rise throughout the life of the industry: ie, more coal was continually produced by fewer people, operating increasingly technological methods of extraction.
The overall figure of 948 billion tonnes (recoverable) globally is a gross underestimation of actual reserves. In fact something like 60 trillion tonnes of coal lie under the coast and seas of the north-west and north-east of Britain. One would estimate something similar at least under the rest of British coasts and coalfield areas, not to mention vast untapped coalfields like Oxfordshire. Whether it is “recoverable” is not, as one might think, limited by mine technology, which the majority of those reserves are. What determines whether it is recoverable is, first and foremost, social policy - and the ability to consume coal in relatively environmentally benign systems of power generation, etc; and whether you wish to make those adjustments which have impacts on other aspects of class and power relations (like a regrowth of the National Union of Mineworkers and enrichment of the highly class-conscious coalfield areas.)
When looking at the unkempt militancy of the Doncaster coalfield, together with its relative low profitability, Ian MacGregor, chair of the National Coal Board from 1983 to 1986, commented that he could see no excuse for its continued existence. When this was countered with the fact of the vast reserves in that coalfield, he replied: “Well, hell, there’s gold in the Scottish mountains, but only a fool would try to mine it.”
But it has little to do with straight economics either. Coal is by far the cheapest form of energy generation. And this would only become more so with the application of carbon capture and storage, for example (and the removal of emissions taxes), so its decline in Britain is not linked to either a lack of reserves or potential profitability, but purely and simply politics.
The danger for us miners seeking an expansion of the deep-mine coal industry on the basis of clean-coal technology is that these vast reserves will be licensed off to get-rich-quick schemes, which will rape and pillage the resource. Underground coal gasification is the most dangerous of these. This process actually involves the ignition of the coal seam to extract methane and other coal gases. It is utterly destructive and wasteful, securing only 4% of the calorific value of the coal, while totally destroying the rest. Up to 20 licences have already been granted by the Coal Authority for the offshore seams. If this were to become the norm, those vast, almost eternal, reserves worldwide would in short measure soon be exhausted and laid waste.
By the way, copies of my mining trilogy Stardust and coaldust are available from me at the remarkable total price of £20.
Eddie Ford’s article does sterling service in examining the Spiked operation, and its evolution from the Revolutionary Communist Party/Living Marxism cult into something now indistinguishable from the ranks of the worst lobbyist firms (‘He who pays the piper’, December 13).
Even in that depressing list of the general damage done, one area in particular will stand out to posterity as their toxic legacy. I inevitably refer to their central anti-environmental campaign. A central figure in this effort has been Spiked contributor and Institute of Ideas stalwart Andrew Orlowski, who, as editor of online magazine The Register, headed a despicable, sustained campaign of innuendo and half-truths in that publication against climate science over the late 2000s and early 2010s, regurgitating material from the likes of Nigel Lawson’s denialist Global Warming Policy Foundation.
This war of black propaganda by Spiked, and allies such as Orlowski, against the body of climate scientists - whose work was and is essential to understanding the coming environmental disaster - is unforgivable. Irreplaceable years have been lost, for which the Earth’s biosphere - and our human civilisation in particular - will pay the price in the years and decades to come. What will such individuals tell their children and grandchildren, one wonders?
Whenever I hear supporters of the Spiked project on the radio, like Claire Fox or Frank Furedi, their main objection to any idea seems to be not that it’s untrue or inadequate, but that it’s depressing. I mean, isn’t climate change a discouragement to those of us who glory in western technology like some Victorian engineer?
In the 1990s, Spiked’s precursor, the magazine Living Marxism, did a good job of filtering the attitudes of the John Major era and reminding people of the class system. But now the Spikeys seem to love opposing any politics that gets in the way of ‘fantastic fracking’ or the greatness of things like the national ‘bond’. It’s Donald Trump in joined-up sentences.