Comrade Jack Conrad’s great tour de force, ‘Marxism versus holy script’ (January 10), falls flat when we examine the details. He seeks to prove, in lockstep with Lars T Lih, yet again, that Kamenev (Trotsky’s brother-in-law), Stalin and Zinoviev were fundamentally right to support the Provisional government after the February 1917 revolution before Lenin returned to reverse this with his April theses. He also proposes that Kamenev and Zinoviev were fundamentally right, or at least had good reasons, to oppose the insurrection that was the October revolution and it is incorrect to fault them for opposing the Bolsheviks for not forming a coalition.
However, the best of the Menshevik-Internationalists had joined the Bolsheviks in August, demonstrating Lenin was right against the vacillating pair. The remaining Menshevik-Internationalists won only two out of 306 seats in all-Russian central executive committee at the Third Congress of Soviets in January 1918. But, even after the victorious insurrection, the two argued that the Bolshevik Party would be unable to maintain itself in power unless they entered into a coalition with the other socialist parties: ie, the Social Revolutionists and the Mensheviks.
This was the proposal that Lenin dubbed ‘treason’, in the Lost Document - the minutes of the meeting of the historic session of the Petrograd Committee of the Bolsheviks held on November 1 (14) 1917. which the bureaucracy attempted to expunge from the records in 1927, because it contained such remarks as this from Lenin:
“As for conciliation [with the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionists], I cannot even speak about that seriously. Trotsky long ago said that unification is impossible. Trotsky understood this and from that time on there has been no better Bolshevik.”
The capitulators to Menshevism were now obviously Kamenev and Zinoviev, with Stalin taking no open position, because he was a centrist in awe of Lenin:
“And now, at such a moment, when we are in power, we are faced with a split. Zinoviev and Kamenev say that we will not seize power [in the entire country]. I am in no mood to listen to this calmly. I view this as treason. What do they want? Do they want to plunge us into [spontaneous] knife-play? Only the proletariat is able to lead the country.”
The last sentence here is important, because he had removed all doubt on what he meant in his April theses, defended so well against the rightists in his ‘Letters on tactics’, April 8-13 - great reading from volume 24 of his Collected works:
“The person who now speaks only of a ‘revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’ is behind the times; consequently, he has in effect gone over to the petty bourgeoisie against the proletarian class struggle; that person should be consigned to the archive of ‘Bolshevik’ pre-revolutionary antiques (it may be called the archive of ‘old Bolsheviks’) ...
“Indeed, reality shows us both the passing of power into the hands of the bourgeoisie (a ‘completed’ bourgeois-democratic revolution of the usual type) and, side by side with the real government, the existence of a parallel government, which represents the “revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry”. This ‘second government’ has itself ceded the power to the bourgeoisie, has chained itself to the bourgeois government.
“Is this reality covered by comrade Kamenev’s old-Bolshevik formula, which says that “the bourgeois democratic revolution is not completed”? It is not. The formula is obsolete. It is no good at all. It is dead. And it is no use trying to revive it.”
Is this a dogmatic, ill-informed Lenin, as comrade Jack would have it? This widely testified-to truth of the course of the Russian Revolution is a myth invented by Trotsky in his Lessons of October in 1924 and far too many foolish or ill-intentioned leftists - and even uninformed bourgeois academics, like EH Carr presumably, were taken in by him, we must believe. In fact, so wrong is that take on the revolution that the very opposite is the truth, comrade Jack assures us, when he reaches the apogee of his political argumentation:
“Subsequently, Lenin talks of the differences being ‘not very great’, because Kamenev had come round to his viewpoint. Unfair - if anything, Lenin had come round to Kamenev’s viewpoint, at the very least on the peasantry. But what we are really dealing with is the vozhd asserting his authority, taking back the reins of leadership. To do that he had to reassure, clarify and if need be correct statements that had been hastily written or wrongly informed.”
Oh, well done there, the whole world has got the history of the great revolution upside down and completely wrong. The real leaders were Kamenev, Zinoviev and Stalin and not these bumbling idiots, Lenin and Trotsky, who not only did not understand revolution, they did not understand the peasantry (we will deal with this later) and Marxism in general, like this sagacious triumvirate.
Jack’s arguments continually confuse strategy with tactics, and this is at the root of the whole confusion he perpetrates. That and the failure to understand the role of the peasantry - why there cannot be a two-class dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry, revolutionary or otherwise. Lenin’s April theses set the strategic goal of the second, socialist revolution. Kamenev, followed by Stalin and then Zinoviev, led the opposition to this - their strategic goal was a bourgeois revolution led by the working class, which entailed support for the Provisional government. Trotsky had pointed out the flaw with this argument back in 1905; once the working class had taken revolutionary power, it was impossible to expect them to tolerate bourgeois exploitation. This central aspect of his permanent revolution theory was fully accepted by Lenin, as is graphically illustrated in the above exchange with Kamenev in his April ‘Letters on tactics’.
Once Lenin had won that month-long argument, then the tactical question was over the time of the insurrection when circumstances were right. But even then, as John Reed tells us, “Riazanov and Kamenev had both opposed the insurrection, and felt the lash of Lenin’s terrible tongue.” But comrade Jack feels that “Lenin and Trotsky proved audacious; Zinoviev and Kamenev cautious”.
Lenin wrote of this incident on December 25 1922, in his ‘Testament’: “I shall not give any further appraisals of the personal qualities of other members of the CC. I shall just recall that the October episode with Zinoviev and Kamenev was, of course, no accident, but neither can the blame for it be laid upon them personally, any more than non-Bolshevism can upon Trotsky.”
Lenin was prepared to forgive because they had apologised and acknowledged their errors. By 1924 they were repeating the same ‘errors’, committed before the April theses and during the October revolution. Trotsky had to take up the fight against them. Zinoviev admitted as much during the brief period of the Joint Opposition in 1926-27. Trotsky recounts:
“At the joint plenum of the central committee and the central control commission of July 14 to July 23 1926, Zinoviev said: ‘I have made many mistakes. But I consider two mistakes as my most important ones. My first mistake of 1917 is known to all of you … The second mistake I consider more dangerous because the first one was made under Lenin. The mistake of 1917 was corrected by Lenin and made good by us within a few days with the help of Lenin, but my mistake of 1923 consisted in …
“In this manner, Zinoviev admitted his mistake of 1923 (in waging a struggle against ‘Trotskyism’ and even characterised it as much more dangerous than that of 1917 - when he opposed the October insurrection!).”
Don’t be rude
Eddie Ford worries that an increased police presence on College Green in response to verbal and physical intimidation of MPs and lobby journalists amounts to a threat to our freedom to protest (‘Our rights threatened too’, January 17).
I venture to say that it does not. In political debate there should be no space for the sort of vile abuse spouted by the likes of James Goddard. Eddie quotes Mr Goddard on Anna Soubry - a “lying trollop”, a “morally repugnant scumbag”. Such language would get you censured, ejected and suspended from any democratic forum. And rightly so.
When the great Nye Bevan branded the Tory Party as “vermin” in a speech, he did neither himself nor the Labour Party any favours. Freedom to give gratuitous, inflammatory, intimidating abuse is not the same as freedom to protest.
We are civilised people. We win the revolution by argument and subsequent ‘push and shove’ by the working class. We don’t need ‘potty-mouth’ barbarism in the ilk of Goddard to move our cause forward.
Paul Demarty, I think, mischaracterises the nature of the debate over the European Economic Community/European Union, going back to the 1970s (‘Dead as a dodo’, January 17). He says two factors defined the approach of the left: the first, going back to the 1970s and the cold war, was historic hostility to the EU; the second was fanatical hostility to the far right.
It is completely wrong to say that any part of the left’s attitude at that time was based on fanatical hostility to the far right. The far right, in the form of the National Front, which was its main representation, supplemented by various splinter groups, was certainly a growing force, and engaged in regular physical-force activities. But, compared even to the several thousand members of the Communist Party, of the Socialist Workers Party, Militant, along with the numerous other far-left groups, such as the Workers Revolutionary Party, let alone the many thousands of Labour activists - even at a time of relative morbity of the LP - they were insignificant. Turning out to stop the NF was almost inevitably a confrontation between the massed ranks of the left against the massed ranks of the police sent out to protect a small number of fascists, who cowered, as they slunk into some meeting hall, rather than any mass confrontation between far left and far right - other than on a few occasions, where the fascists managed to mobilise significant numbers to stage a march.
The disagreement within the left had no relation to a response to the far right, but was almost entirely a continuation of the old argument between Stalinism and Trotskyism over the question of socialism in one country, which breaks down to a debate over the issue of the attitude of Marxists to nationalism and internationalism. In the 1960s, the far left held to an internationalist position of abstention over joining the EEC. The Communist Party argued for opposition, reflecting the interests of the Moscow bureaucracy.
The debate was not just over the attitude to the EEC: it was also over opposition to the nationalistic British road to socialism, which reflected the Stalinist policy of socialism in one country. It also carried over into the debates over the Alternative Economic Strategy, which in its dominant formulations was based upon the same kind of economic nationalist agenda of proposing import controls and so on, which was the policy of the Communist Party, and its fellow-travellers within Tribune and the Bennite left within the Labour Party.
It was that division that drove the debate, not any concern about, let alone fanatical hostility to, the far right. What intensified the debate at that time was the fact that those that came from the more orthodox Trotskyist background found themselves having to defend that internationalist position, as the larger organisations, such as the SWP and Militant - that had driven further and further in the direction of economism and syndicalism/reformism respectively, as they sought to capitalise on the gains in recruitment they had made amongst industrial workers during the period of intensified industrial struggle of the late 1960s and early 1970s - abandoned their previous positions, for fear of losing their periphery to the CP and Bennite left, as they promoted the more populist, nationalist solutions of ‘blame the foreigner, blame the EU, blame foreign imports’ and so on.
In fact, in the 1970s, any chance of pulling out of the EEC was not to be found in the influence of the far right, but of the left. The Tory Party, unlike today, was firmly under the sway of its EEC-supporting wing, most visibly represented by Heath. The reactionary wing, representing the small-shopkeeper capitalists, as depicted in David Edgar’s Destiny, were a small minority. The anti-EEC lobby, apart from the mavericks like Powell, was overwhelmingly made up of people like Michael Foot, Benn, Peter Shore, Barbara Castle and so on.
Fast-forward to today, and what we see is that those sections of the left that abandoned the internationalist position in the 1970s have continued to abide by the nationalist stance they adopted at that time, though the dynamics of why they have done so has varied. The Militant/Socialist Party is just as a left reformist outfit, whose programme of parliamentary reforms, and nationalisation of the top monopolies, fits fairly seamlessly with the old nationalistic concepts of the CP’s ‘British road to social democracy’, whilst the SWP’s two defining characteristics - spontaneism/build a bigger demo/more militancy, and Sismondist anti-capitalism/anti-imperialism - lead it inevitably into a knee-jerk opposition to anything that seems to be in the interests of the development of capitalism.
For my part, at least, it’s opposition to that reactionary nature of the forces of left nationalism that is the basis for opposing Brexit/Lexit, not any consideration of whether doing so is required in order to assuage some fanatical hostility to the far right. In fact, the driving force today behind Brexit is not the far right, nor the far left or the Stalinists: it is the reactionary wing of the Tory Party, representing all of those small-trader capitalists. It is they that have captured the Tory base, and via the European Research Group exert their influence over the Tory Party in parliament.
That is what defines this division. On the one hand, the EU represents the interests of big, socialised capital, and of the shareholders and bondholders that draw their revenues from it. It also represents the interests of the working class, because it is on the basis of these more developed forms of capital that its higher living standards, ability to organise, to increase social security and to struggle for industrial democracy and then socialism, depends. On the other hand, the interests of the small capitalists lie in Brexit, and they drag behind them a long tail of associated, usually atomised layers, which now has control over the Tory Party, as well as being falsely presented as potential Labour voters, to scare rightwing Labour MPs into not opposing Brexit.
And the situation facing Marxists today is not the same as in 1975. Then it was quite appropriate to argue for an active abstention. Now it is not. Marxists could not argue for workers to join a capitalist Europe as an alternative to a capitalist Britain - though they could point to all the reasons that the EEC was more progressive than Britain, by removing borders and so on, and making worker solidarity easier to achieve. But simply more progressive was not enough. Our solution was not a more progressive capitalist Europe, but a socialist united states of Europe. However, we are now in that more progressive capitalist Europe. It is quite a different matter now to be indifferent as to whether we remain within that more progressive structure, rather than leave it to go back to a more reactionary structure!
As Marx sets out in his essay on ‘Political indifferentism’, we would not argue for capitalist provision of state education, or various other forms of welfarism, because we are in favour of workers’ self-government and provision of those services. But, if the capitalist state provides them, would we then refuse to take advantage of that development, and demand going back to some more primitive situation? Of course not.
If I work for a small firm, I do not demand that it be taken over by a monopoly, even if that might have advantages in terms of wages and conditions, ability to organise and so on. I argue that the solution lies in workers’ ownership and control, not simply a more developed, more civilised capitalist regime of the larger monopoly. If the firm is to be taken over, I neither argue for or against such a takeover, I set out the advantages of working for the larger capital, but pointing out the need not to settle for that, but to struggle for industrial democracy, and workers’ ownership and control. But, if the firm is taken over, I would then not be indifferent if someone were to propose that the monopoly be broken up, in order to force things back into some previous, more primitive form of capitalism. I would have a duty to oppose such a development.
And the same applies with the EU. It is no longer a question of arguing the need for a socialist alternative to what exists rather than simply accepting a more progressive capitalist alternative. It is a matter of arguing against the imposition of a more reactionary alternative.
If the far right don’t like that, and try to make hay out of it, that can be no reason not to argue for stopping Brexit, and indeed can be no argument for opposing a further democratic vote on the issue. That is a quite different situation to those proposing Lexit, who via their nationalist arguments directly gave sanction to the nationalistic, xenophobic arguments and actions of the far right.
Arthur Bough states that the product of labour in a “primitive commune or under communism” takes the form of value. This is because all products of labour in every society are “nothing more than an expression of ... labour-time” (‘Subjective and objective value’, January 17).
This statement rests on fallacious reasoning. It is true that all products in every society take a certain amount of time to make. It does not follow from this that they take the form of value. Labour-time is a necessary condition for value to exist, but it is not sufficient. If value is the form that abstract labour takes within generalised commodity production, then the measurement of labour-time expressed in a value relation presupposes the commodification of labour-power. This is regardless of labour’s specific useful characteristics.
In other words, the measurement of labour-time can take place in societies where labour-power is not a commodity and all products are use-values, not commodities. For example, in the primitive commune, the determinants of labour-time are the length of the day, the weather and the health and strength of the producers. In contrast, under communism, the determinant of labour-time is the consciously chosen, democratically organised plan. Freely associated producers create this plan.
Put differently, the category of value entails production for exchange. It shares this quality with exchange value. Both categories imply production for the exchange of commodities as equivalents. The equivalence of exchange value with money has a subjective character, expressed in the price of a commodity. Marx argues that underlying the movement of prices is value and abstract labour. Abstract labour does not exist without the generalisation of exchangeability to labour-power. In the absence of the alienation of labour-power as a commodity, the socially objective character of value either declines or disappears. This is what happened under Stalinism, where the political police atomised workers and used brute force to try to produce a surplus. The failed aim of Stalinist production was the production of use-values - not value and surplus value.
Why is it important to strive for clarity on this issue? Ideologically, Bough’s reasoning supports an aspect of commodity fetishism. This is the idea that the market has existed in every form of society. It is therefore natural and eternal. Politically, the abolition of the wages system, full employment and the shortened working week strike a blow to the global subordination of workers to the law of value. Planning for need then replaces commodity exchange as the universal social relation.
Paul B Smith
After their rout in 1745, the mangled, wounded Jacobites were systematically and brutally murdered where they lay. Retreating troops were followed in a hysterical fox-hunt by Georgian cavalry, with infantry following up behind. Every man, women child and beast they encountered on the way was butchered and houses destroyed.
There is something of the same hysterical revenge being enacted by the government’s latest phase of exterminating coal. They now plan to ban coal from house fires, ban open fires and ban wood-burning stoves. This marks the end to wee, traditional pubs with nice roaring wood and coal fires in the grate. It also marks a huge problem for tens of thousands - maybe hundreds of thousands - of folk in coalfield and industrial areas, whose only source of heating is their solid fuel central heating and open fires. Will we have smoke detection vans patrolling the area, as TV licence enforcers used to?
But it also marks up the relentless war of attrition against the coal communities. One will recall that Drax, the largest coal-powered station in Europe, burned coal from all over Yorkshire and ultimately just from Big K, which lived next door, a few hundred yards from the power station.
The government, after closing down the White Rose Scheme based at Drax, which would have used carbon capture systems to reduce 50% of CO2 emissions at the plant ordered them instead to use wood. So millions of tons of wood would be grown around the world, where natural forest would have been growing and redressing the excess of CO2. Or else they took the place of much needed food for the peoples of the ‘third world’ - instead they grew wood to burn in the power station.
It would be cheaper than carbon capture, it would deliver the coup de grace against coal-mining and it would be ‘carbon-neutral’. The idea behind this being that, although it would generate 40% more CO2 than coal, with the White Rose CCS scheme it would come from renewable forests. They were growing anyway and might regenerate some of the CO2 into oxygen. The fact that these wood chips would then be shipped across the world in vessels burning diesel was never added into the equation. Neither was the locomotive transportation from the coasts, none of which had affected Big K’s delivery of coal next door.
So thrilled was the government with its ‘green renewable’ plan, they actually gave the process a £1billion per year subsidy, while coal was ultimately charged a 75% mark-up on its tax for daring to be produced. They had called it an emissions tax, but they charged it not when any emissions were made, but when the coal was bought. The point about that was to penalise coal burning, even if it was used in clean-coal, non-emission systems like the Don Valley one, which had been approved for Hatfield Main colliery. It killed Hatfield Main stone dead. But it allowed Drax to mop up the million tons it had already had on the ground, burned up the flues making emissions, but charged 33% less emissions tax than any new coal they might buy. They chose not to buy any new coal and as such destroyed Hatfield’s only market - job done: pit closed.
The subsidy was equivalent to £100 million per megawatt-hour (MWH), while coal without any carbon taxes was being produced at a cost of £30-£35 per MWH without subsidy!
So, having been so thoroughly thrilled with wood, many folk bought wood-burning stoves and multi-fuel burners for their living rooms. After all £1 billion of wood-burning subsidy can’t be wrong, right ? Oh - I nearly forgot to mention a further £2 billion was paid in subsidies to customers who used the power supplied by wood.
But here is the further rub: the government now says it will eliminate all coal-power production by 2025 (a tripartite deal drawn up my ‘red’ Ed and designed by Blair. It means all three political parties in Britain agreed that, whichever of them got in, they would wipe out coal power without opposition), “unless they are using carbon-capture systems”. Would that be the carbon-capture systems the government pulled the plugs on at Hatfield Main and Kellingley?
We should remember, by the way, that the big fan club for ‘biomass systems’ in opposition to coal was ... the Greens, God love them. Biomass was a renewable and therefore the environmental equivalent of the second coming (for those who do not read the Bible that is not a sexual reference.). The salesman for the renewable saviour of the world (literally) was Lib Dem energy secretary Chris Huhne, who went on to be hired by the big US biomass firm, Zilkha. He went on to serve a sentence for perverting the course of justice - the major players in the great environmental con against coal and for ‘renewables’ could all be charged with the same thing in my view.
So there they go - pursuing the evil coal demon, even to the last lump on the family hearth.
Comrade Mike Macnair’s article on the gilets jaunes protest movement covered many aspects and considerations, for the most part interestingly so (‘An enigmatic movement’, January 17). But it failed in one highly important respect. Little or no emphasis was given to how this entirely spontaneous outburst of anti-establishment action has demonstrated beyond all doubt that any 21st-century capitalist state is a fragile thing.
Despite an ability to exercise manipulative control over the hearts and minds of a population. Despite the unarguably ultra-efficient methods of civil and military oppression it amasses (ie, those nowadays standing ever more well-equipped, ever more poisonously prepared). In truth and in contrast, the capitalist state is an entirely moribund entity - one that could readily be overthrown by a socio-culturally focused mass of its working class. In short, the modern-day capitalist system is wholly vulnerable to our revolutionary ambitions.
Of course, it’s only too easy to fall into the trap of being simplistic, overly enthusiastic, idealistic or even downright naive. However, a good dollop of optimism, allied to platinum-grade positivity, never goes amiss - most pertinently when trying to draw fresh members of society into the fight. That is to say, encourage them to join our Marxist/communist side of the barricades and battle lines - those as variously will develop over time.
In a certain sense expanding upon these lines of thought, surely the use of a ‘hammer and sickle’ masthead is now entirely outdated, indeed an active obstacle to gaining connection with potential supporters or more generally reaching beyond current confines. Almost all working folk associate that iconography with Stalinism, and anyway are far more familiar with a coffee-shop barista’s apron, computer mouse or steering wheel of a delivery van than any such Old Skool reminder of wage-slavery - any such profoundly dispiriting obedience to The Man.
Although by no means sweeping aside all problems, a modernised design would do nothing but help in generating some desperately needed ‘wokeness’ in our world. So, yes: a stylish new masthead for the Weekly Worker, please! - one to take its place alongside other vibrantly connected and dynamic presentations of our ideas and policies; our timelessly relevant values.