For decades I listened to endless discussion on the nature of the Soviet Union, its degree of degeneracy, whether it was bureaucratically centralised socialism or a degenerated workers’ state, whether the satellite states were themselves also bureaucratic/degenerated workers’ states or mere buffers. In any case, it was heartily agreed they were on ‘our side’ of the class war and must be defended - even at times ‘supported’. There were endless arguments as to the difference between ‘support’ and ‘defence’.
Whatever one thinks of those interminable discussions and deliberations, they were at least about states purporting to be non-capitalist forms of one sort of another. However, what I see and hear from some writers in this paper and others is the same sort of ‘defence’ and ‘support’ being extended to the bloody European Union! Liberal leftists appear to have deluded themselves into thinking the EU is some form of proto-workers’ collective, some Progressive Venture aimed at the betterment of the European working class.
It seems to have escaped the notice of these EU cheerleaders that this is a wholly capitalist enterprise aimed at the exploitation of European workers. They have failed to notice whose camp they are standing in, that the EU has the support of the British ruling class, the civil service, the heads of the armed forces and police, the Confederation of British Industry, the banks, International Monetary Fund, multinationals and corporations of all sorts, 75% of all MPs, the Lords, etc, etc. Why do they think this is?
‘Free movement’ is no such thing, of course: it applies solely to workers from the EU and, rather than some act of internationalist equality, it is aimed at reducing workers to the lowest common denominator in terms of pay and conditions - it is aimed at driving them down. In the process it aims at breaking up trade union consciousness and culture. Of course, this challenge must be met by hard, organised campaigns, aimed at bringing migrant workers into the unions, but, given agency working, short-term or no contracts, etc, the transient nature of much of the work makes membership of unions that much harder to achieve and that is its purpose. Workers have had hard-wired into their class DNA centuries of restricting production and people in the labour market in order to strengthen their class position. Measures such as bans on overtime and weekend working, restrictions on the number of apprentices, etc. Fearing overfilled labour markets is not so much a feature of xenophobia or - god help us - ‘racialism’ as an instinctive class response to defend the bargaining position of workers in the class struggle.
But, above all else, the politicians - the wise and the good who presided over the destruction of traditional British industry and working class communities (often with the help of EU directives) and told us they knew best what was in our interests - this time advised a vote to remain in the EU. This was enough to ensure that the majority of working class constituencies in the country voted the opposite way! These are class responses, not responses of ‘little Englanders’ or union jack waist-coated, forelock-tipping plebs, as depicted by the liberal left.
I have to say that the arrogance of the liberal left and its hysterical support for the EU, which has all the traditional class enemies of the workers in tow, is likely to make lifelong enemies in traditional working class areas. We now have the position where one-time militant trade unionists, who would have described themselves as blue-collar old Labour, now consider ‘socialists’ of all sorts as their class enemies, as they are continually slagged off by them as racialists and Tory toadies.
This is a very refracted form of the class struggle in itself. Britain out of Ireland and the EU, Ireland out of the EU, Scotland out of the EU and UK - that’s where I stand. I am also for international socialism and the struggle for a global communist commonwealth, of course - but that is not on offer in the EU.
The pro-Brexit far left (Socialist Workers Party, Committee for a Workers’ International, Communist Party of Britain, etc) have an unrealistic view of the world and the present level of socialist and class-consciousness.
When a Marxist or any seeker after truth looks into the reality of any social formation and its dynamic, they must look to the goals of the movement, the ideology guiding its supporters and the politics of its leaders. It is rather obvious that the mass sentiment for Brexit does not come from the left or from any rise in class-consciousness. Why can’t groups like the SWP and CWI not see and understand that the mass support for Brexit is mainly reactionary (indeed semi-racist) and is obviously a movement led by rightwing Tories with an anti-working class agenda? It is glaringly obvious that Brexit is a British nationalist movement.
The whole Brexit movement has a reactionary dynamic. And yet the pro-Brexit far left has a fantasy that socialists can take the lead in that movement and take it somewhere positive. In fact, is a recipe for a catastrophic defeat of the labour movement and, in so far as the labour movement gives support to Brexit, it will be digging its own grave. In present circumstances, ‘Lexit’ can only exist in the mind of the Brexit-supporting far left. It has no other reality. Instead of echoing the calls of the far right for the ending of the free movement of workers within the EU and for the defence and return of ‘British sovereignty’, the socialist left should be fighting for working class solidarity and opposition to the national chauvinism driving Brexit.
We have to put forward a fight against British nationalism and counterpose in practice the unity of the international working class in the fight against growing social inequality, ecological destruction and the drive towards militarism and war. Given the reality of the reactionary nature of the forces supporting Brexit, socialists should come out clearly for ‘remain’ as part of a viable strategy to build a European-wide movement for socialism.
The British establishment’s attempt to remove Jeremy Corbyn from the leadership of the Labour Party is stepping up a gear. The Guardian is the spearhead of the lies about Corbyn in respect of Brexit, since its readership includes many Labour Party supporters. The bogus anti-Semitism claims have been sidelined for now. The Labour right and the British establishment don’t want a general election until Corbyn has been removed as Labour leader. His position is entirely consistent with the Labour conference decision on Brexit and it is likely that if Labour wins a general election Brexit will be postponed and then cancelled.
Corbyn’s attempt to renegotiate a deal after the withdrawal of article 50 will come to nought other than possibly providing a wider understanding of the anti-working class nature of the EU and its constitution among both the British and European working class. Where Corbyn can be criticised as falling short is in his failure to take any concrete steps to promote a European-wide movement to end austerity. One of the first acts of a Corbyn-led Labour government should be to organise a European-wide conference of all those seeking to fight austerity and promote pro-working class reforms and socialism in Europe.
How can working class democrats oppose all UK exit? The first and foremost demand is to back the working class in Northern Ireland and Scotland, who had majority votes for ‘remain’. The democratic and indeed revolutionary answer to an all-UK exit is a united Ireland. Scotland must exercise its right to self-determination and leave the UK to remain or rejoin the EU.
This is the alternative strategy based on working class votes. It is the alternative to the liberal demand for a second/repeat referendum to reverse the 2016 vote. We must totally oppose this liberal demand now. If and only if there is a sea change in working class opinion could a second/repeat referendum even be contemplated.
Yes to a united Ireland and yes to an independent Scottish republic is an urgent demand. But a second/repeat referendum is dangerous, divisive and offers no solutions. By contrast, ending the UK is not just an Irish or Scottish question, but one for the working class in England and Wales and the rest of Europe. It is the final nail in the coffin of the reactionary and utopian plan to resurrect the British empire under World Trade Organisation rules.
The democratic case for a ratification referendum is very different, however. It is about accountability. The people in England and Wales voted for the principle of leaving the EU without the details. Her Majesty’s Government disappeared for two years and then come back with a proposal. The working class across the UK must have the right to vote for or against May’s deal.
Brexit has seen the emergence of three shadow ‘parties’ - ‘leave’, ‘remain’ and ‘democrat’. In parliament, the ‘remain party’ aims to overthrow the decision to leave through a second/repeat referendum. They are united against Corbyn and hope they can to oust him.
Liberal pundit Andrew Rawnsley argues that “to stop Brexit, Labour supporters will have to revolt against their leader”. He explains that “if they want another referendum they will have to learn from their leader and rebel against him” (The Observer January 6). The Labour right and the liberal Tories see the danger of Brexit as an opportunity to damage or stop Corbyn.
The ‘democrat party’ is comprised of those who support ‘remain’, but have accepted the result. Corbyn is one of the leaders of this ‘party’, which includes Len McCluskey, John McDonnell and probably Diane Abbott, etc. The 2016 referendum enabled working class people to vote ‘remain’ or ‘leave’ and as democrats we recognise the value of working people being able to vote in elections and referenda.
This does not mean we are blind to the problems of ballots, when money is king and all democracy can be gerrymandered and corrupted. We should never forget the serious failings of the 2016 referendum. This includes the exclusion of nearly three million EU citizens resident in the UK and of the 16-17-year-olds. Neither can we ignore the misuse of funds or the exploitation of big data.
Nevertheless it is better, on balance, to accept the result - but not the rightwing, British nationalist interpretation of it. That must be contested, starting with England supporting the democratic rights of Ireland and Scotland. Furthermore, nobody voted to leave the single market or the customs union, since that was not on the ballot paper.
Corbyn has adopted aspects of the democratic case - accepting the 2016 result and opposing the call for a second/repeat referendum. But he has not adopted a fully democratic approach. He is an inconsistent semi-democrat. He has failed to recognise the importance of Ireland and Scotland or their right to self-determination. He has failed to recognise the rights of the working class to ratify or reject the May deal.
Instead of a strong line on democracy, Corbyn has a weak one. These weaknesses in his approach to democracy may enable the Labour right to drive a wedge between him and his younger supporters, especially in London, who are strongly for ‘remain’. That is what Andrew Rawnsley is calling for.
Meanwhile May was out campaigning in her own people’s ‘referendum’ on her deal. She told Andrew Marr that ‘on the doorstep’ the vast majority she met were sympathetic and wanted her to crack on, so we could get back to normal politics. Business was ‘voting’ for her deal too. The only thing missing from May’s ‘referendum’ is that working class people are not allowed to vote. She doesn’t trust us.
Getting it right
True to Trot and revisionist pretences of ‘polemic’, the latest article by Jim Creegan (‘Different perspectives and different objectives’, December 20) ignores the exposures of mistaken understandings and distortions of both the Trotskyist and Lars T Lih accounts of Lenin’s April theses I made in two recent letters; and further criticisms in a letter by Don Hoskins, the editor of the Economic and Philosophic Science Review remain unpublished.
This endlessly circular squabble in the Weekly Worker never gets to the root of the matter. It never explains what conclusions the working class are supposed to draw from the Soviet Union’s foundation and subsequent history (its achievements and mistakes), and its significance today; or what happened to the Trots’ much anticipated ‘political revolution’, including their support for Poland’s Solidarność. If the Soviet Union had already become a counterrevolutionary disaster, as the Trotskyists and WW claim, what happened in 1989-91, when capitalism really was restored?
Creegan’s recent ‘discovery’ of passages from Lenin describing his perspective of ‘uninterrupted revolution’, thanks to “a New York comrade” (not long after I had briefly outlined his perspective in a recent letter to the Weekly Worker), inconveniently contradicts his attempt to diminish Lenin’s revolutionary leadership and boost Trotsky, and so he misleadingly presents the two quotes as isolated “devout wishes” on Lenin’s part and “glimpses” of his alleged April 1917 “reorientation towards Trotsky”. He misleadingly suggests the Bolsheviks’ ‘revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ slogan and their minimum demand for a constituent assembly meant that the working class would have had to “meekly stand aside and hand everything back as a result of a constituent assembly vote”, once a bourgeois republic had been established, and that Lenin assumed that “the antagonisms between the bourgeoisie and the workers … can be resolved in a peaceful parliamentary manner”. Creegan claims to have based his understanding on “a careful exegesis” of Lenin’s 1905 Two tactics. He can’t have been that careful. In it, Lenin argued that there would be no interruption to the revolutionary struggle once the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship had been established:
“The complete victory of the present revolution will mark the end of the democratic revolution and the beginning of a determined struggle for a socialist revolution … The more complete the democratic revolution, the sooner, the more widespread, the cleaner and the more determined will the development of this new struggle be … In other words, when the democratic bourgeoisie or petty bourgeoisie ascends another step, when not only the revolution, but the complete victory of the revolution, becomes an accomplished fact, we shall ‘change’ … the slogan of the democratic dictatorship to the slogan of a socialist dictatorship of the proletariat: ie, of a full socialist revolution.”
The Russian proletariat was in a minority in 1905 and so needed to ally itself with the petty bourgeois revolutionary struggle for a democratic republic, whilst maintaining its own independence and preparing to fight for the proletarian dictatorship as soon as the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship had been accomplished. Against Trotsky’s ‘socialism now’ idealism, Lenin consistently argued that a revolutionary dictatorship can only be durable if it has the support of the majority; and the majority were the urban and rural bourgeoisie and semi-proletarians.
The proletariat were still in a minority in April 1917. As a result of the real-world developments mentioned in my previous letters, Lenin adapted the Bolsheviks’ revolutionary perspective to the new, unexpected and peculiar conditions of dual power. The revolutionary-democratic dictatorship slogan had been made obsolete by the changed reality - not because it was always wrong, as the Trots claim, but because it was now in existence, as Lenin explained in his Letters on tactics. Creegan, Lih, Conrad and the rest never get around to mentioning this crucial point of Lenin’s:
“This remarkable feature, unparalleled in history in such a form, has led to the interlocking of two dictatorships: dictatorship of the bourgeoisie (for the government of Lvov and co is a dictatorship - ie, a power based not on the law, not on the previously expressed will of the people, but on seizure by force, accomplished by a definite class: namely, the bourgeoisie) and the dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry (the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies).”
Creegan quotes approvingly from EH Carr when cherry-picking passages he can use against Kamenev, but he slides past those parts that make a better description of Lenin’s understanding of dual power. He castigates Kamenev for opposing the overthrow of the bourgeois Provisional Government in April, but, as Carr correctly points out, Lenin, for different reasons, was also arguing that it would be premature to bring it down. Kamenev and the local Bolshevik leadership had not understood the significance of the soviets as the realisation of the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship. The world war and general development of capitalism had created the objective conditions for socialism, but, as Lenin argued, the majority still needed to be won over through “patient explanation”, and by advocating the transfer of state power from the bourgeoisie to the soviets, as a “step towards socialism”.
The fact that the local Bolsheviks initially failed to understand Lenin’s theses is not a damning indictment of them as Bolsheviks for ever more. Contrary to what Creegan says, it was a “temporary tactical misunderstanding” (albeit one which needed to be fought hard against and exposed for the illusions it was spreading in the Provisional Government and its continuation of the imperialist war) and they were won over to Lenin’s position within a matter of weeks. The fact that there were also “tactical differences” over the need to launch an insurrection in October was also not a problem (openly continuing the debate once a firm party line had been established was a serious breach of discipline - for which Kamenev and Zinoviev were ruthlessly, and correctly, denounced by Lenin).
Creegan hypocritically denounces Kamenev for proposing a coalition with “non-Bolshevik socialists who proposed an all-socialist soviet government” after the October revolution, whilst totally ignoring Trotsky’s constant opposition to the Bolsheviks’ battle for leadership of the workers’ movement through his advocacy of “conciliation” with assorted “left” petty bourgeois elements (until he saw which way the wind was blowing and joined the Bolsheviks in June 1917). He also ignores the fact that Kamenev’s proposal was part of a live debate amongst Bolsheviks after the revolution over the best way to draw non-Bolshevik elements towards them and win them over to their revolutionary perspective. Getting it wrong did not prevent him from joining the Politburo in 1919 and did not negate his strengths as a senior Bolshevik leader.
Lenin actively encouraged and sought out debate around the burning questions of the day - not to create an eclectic stew of ‘all opinions are valid’ agnosticism, where differences never get resolved, but to arrive at the correct scientific understanding of events as they emerged, and where they were heading. Confusion and mistaken analysis can only be identified and corrected through polemics. Only through an open polemical struggle for understanding can a highly disciplined revolutionary party of cadres capable of independently analysing the historical situation and balance of class forces be built and lead the working class to socialism - as the history of the Bolsheviks under Lenin’s leadership proves.
In reply to Jack Conrad’s ‘Whatever happened to peak oil?’( December 6), the first thing to point out is that the fact that oil prices are at a 10-year low in no way negates peak oil theory.
Oil prices hovering around $60 or $50 per barrel is not low. It’s important to remember that peak oil does not refer to the decline of oil production, but rather a period when oil production is at its maximum. An increase in supply with a slowdown in world economic growth in the major economies leads to a drop in prices. These factors inevitably, especially in journalistic circles, remove peak oil from the centre stage of debate. This is the answer to the question, ‘Whatever happened to peak oil?’
In the period of peak oil, when the world economy is registering slower growth, there is no shortage of oil. It is when economic growth resumes and the demand for oil increases, while supply cannot be increased significantly, that peak oil is exposed for all to see. The real problem will begin not at peak oil, but when world oil production begins to decline annually. This has never happened before in the history of capitalism, or industrial society. And some people wedded to 19th century ideologies, such as Marxism, and traditional political economy have a difficulty facing up to this problem.
The peak oil debate has divided people into two camps: the pessimists and the optimists. The former see the collapse of modern society when oil production begins to decline, while the latter believe that the ‘magic’ of the market and technology will remove the problem posed by peak oil, which they place in the distant future. Some researchers believe that the elite have secret, free-energy technology to deploy to avert any future energy crisis.
Peak oil does not relate to some abstract society, but to a specific society - capitalism - based on production for profit, which came about on the basis of cheap energy. In other words, modern capitalist society is a product of cheap energy and so the question is, how will such a society respond to rising energy prices? History may have answered this question twice. First in the early 1970s, when Opec cut oil production, which led to price increases and a recession, and again in 2008, when oil prices around $147 per barrel triggered the banking crisis and a recession. Jack Conrad and others believe that shale oil and tar sands will save the day. The turn to these sources simply confirm the peak. Their viability is related to relatively cheap conventional oil production.
The global economic slowdown which reduces the demand for oil, thus hiding the fact that we are at peak oil or close to it, has given the peak oil deniers once again the chance to dismiss peak oil theory. They repeat oil company propaganda designed to keep up share values. They tell us that electric cars and technology will save the day. But technology and electric cars all have a cost, so the question is, will it save the day for capitalism? The deniers say that peak oil theory is economically ignorant, when in fact it argues a basic irrefutable economic point, which is that decreasing supplies leads to rising prices.
Depletion is a fact, and it is accelerating. In 2005 it was reported that 33 of the largest oil-producing nations are now in decline. Of the largest 50 oil-producing states 42 have passed their peak and are in decline. All over the world leading oilfields are in production decline or finding it increasingly hard to maintain production at previous levels. As one serious commentator has pointed out, “The whole economic paradigm is predicated on the need for more oil every year. The imperative has always been to keep people spending and consuming instead of dealing with reality ... New oil coming online is not even close to making a dent in depletion! And what that means is that big price spikes lie in wait to ambush a greatly weakened global economy.”
The oil companies have always refused to acknowledge peak oil, as this would be bad for their shares on the stock markets. Claiming that for them peak oil now refers to when demand for oil begins to fall due to electrics doesn’t remove the problem. Electric power has to be generated and people are already facing regular increase in their domestic energy bills.
Both pessimists and optimists are wrong in my opinion, because they detach the oil production decline from a specific, concrete society - ie, capitalism - based on profit-making. Capitalism won’t work if profits cannot be made, and rising energy prices undermine profits. So we are in fact talking about a new form of society arising out of the decline of oil production. This, in my view, can only be socialism: production for need based on social ownership. Energy is always at centre-stage. Contrary to Marxist doctrine, it was an energy crisis which triggered the decline of feudalism and it appears that the same may well apply to capitalism.
But those who want socialism must not assume that a world depression triggered by oil production depletion will automatically lead to revolution. The elite is preparing for the coming opposition to their control of society on various levels, including the transhumanist agenda, which wants humans fused with technology, including the microchip and under the control of the elite. The first stage of the transhumanist agenda is to get us addicted to technology and microchipping our pets. Look around and you see everyone playing with their smartphones. This is the first stage before they proceed with the transhumanist agenda, where we will all be under their control, like The Borg in science ‘fiction’.
The question is, what should the left be doing? One thing they shouldn’t be wasting time with is trying to win Labour Party members over to a flawed 19th century doctrine like Marxism. While socialism is the essence of Marxism, the essence of socialism isn’t Marxism, but production for need based on social ownership.