Two letters

Gerry Downing’s letters made me laugh (January 24, January 31). Quite clearly he is incapable of critical thinking. All he can do is parrot tired formulas, distort and misrepresent. Eg, in 1905 Lenin sought a bourgeois revolution, while in 1917 he came over to the view that there had to be a socialist revolution. What fun. What nonsense.

Instead of answering Gerry Downing point by point, I ask him to consider Lenin’s October 1921 article marking the fourth anniversary of the October revolution (VI Lenin CW Vol 33, Moscow 1977, pp51-59). Here we find Lenin assessing the significance of 1917: “The direct and immediate object of the revolution in Russia was a bourgeois democratic one.” Namely, destroy the survivals of medievalism, purge Russia of barbarism and remove obstacles to progress. Lenin takes some considerable pride in the achievements made over four years.

The anarchists and petty bourgeois democrats (Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries) are incapable of understanding the “relation between the bourgeois democratic revolution and the socialist (that is, proletarian) revolution”. Experience has “proved to the hilt that our interpretation of Marxism on this point” - an interpretation which as I have comprehensively demonstrated goes back to the summer of 1905 - “were correct”. Lenin says: “We have consummated the bourgeois democratic revolution as nobody has before.” “We are advancing [in October 1921] towards the socialist revolution consciously.”

What was the content of the bourgeois democratic revolution? Dealing with the monarchy, social estates, landed property, the second-class legal position of women, national oppression, the grip of the Orthodox church. All had been swept away within the space of just four years.

Fulfilling the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution were a “by-product” of the struggle for proletarian power. The first develops into the second. The second, “in passing”, solves the problems of the first. “The second consolidates the work of the first”.

Showing the significant retreats forced upon the Bolsheviks by civil war, imperialist intervention and the failure of the revolution in the west, crucially Germany, Lenin can no longer refer to a workers’ and peasants’ regime. Instead, in a country dominated by small-peasant agriculture, he holds out the prospect of building “gangways to socialism by way of state capitalism”. His plan is to form “a small peasant economy” via “state capitalism to socialism”. That “course” has proven “much longer and much more difficult than we would have liked”. But despite “disaster, famine and ruin - we shall not flinch”, declares Lenin.

Without revolution in Europe there was bound to be first counterrevolution within the revolution and then counterrevolution within the counterrevolution. The first developed into the second. The second consolidated the reverses of the first.

Sad to say, Gerry Downing will not grasp much of this. He is not only an advocate of the socialism of fools, when it comes to the “overrepresentation” of Jews in the ruling class. He is an advocate of the Trotskyism of fools, when it comes to Lenin, the Bolsheviks and the October revolution.

Jack Conrad

Off beam

Arthur Bough states that in Capital volume 1 the example of Robinson Crusoe “tells us all we need to know about value and the law of value” (Letters, January 31). He goes on to argue that this example proves that value does not depend on commodity production and exchange, “because Crusoe only ever produces for his own consumption”.

Bough is surely correct, if by ‘value’ he means ‘labour time’, that Crusoe produces use-values that have taken a certain amount of time to make (given the average or normal rate of the expenditure of his labour-power). This proves the trivial point that all use-values, regardless of whether they have the historically specific social form of a commodity, take a certain amount of labour-time to produce.

It does not follow, as Bough seems to think, that within every conceivable mode of production all products of labour possess value, because they have taken a certain time to make. At the level of logic, this is a clear example of the fallacy of affirming the consequent - if value entails labour-time and this is a product of labour time then it has value.

However, the point goes beyond logic to a substantive difference of interpretation. As Marx stated of Adam Smith and Ricardo, they failed to discover the “form under which value becomes exchange value”. This was not just because they were both “entirely absorbed in the analysis of the magnitude of value”, but because they overlooked the “differentia specifica of the value form” as the “most universal form taken by the product in bourgeois production” (Capital Vol 1, pp52-53, footnote 2).

The same can be said of Bough. Like Smith and Ricardo, he too is preoccupied with the magnitude of value expressed in quantities of labour time. He also ignores the historically specific social form of value peculiar to bourgeois production. This is the form that socially necessary labour-time takes as homogeneous abstract labour.

These preoccupations lead Bough to misread Marx’s purpose in the Robinson Crusoe example. Marx uses Crusoe’s relation to the products of his labour to illustrate the effect that commodity fetishism has on the social form that value takes within bourgeois society. This is the opposite intention from the one Bough imputes to him. Marx does not use Crusoe as an example of the natural, eternal nature of relations of value, but of the simplicity and transparency of the relationship between the production of use-values and labour-time in the absence of generalised commodity production.

Did Bough go off beam when he read that Marx states that the “simple and clear” relations that Crusoe has with the objects he has created “contain all that is essential to the determination of value” (p48)? I guess he did. I guess he read the phrase as a confirmation of his position on the eternal nature of value. However, the keyword in the phrase is “determination”, not “value”. The phrase is read more properly as a contradiction to the complexity and opacity of value relations within bourgeois society.

To use a biological analogy - the presence of sperm and an egg are essential determinants of life, but they have to be brought together through a process of fertilisation if life is to come into being. Similarly the presence of use-values and labour-time are essential determinants of value, but they had to be brought together in the process of commodity production before value can come into existence.

Paul B Smith

Not absolute

Arthur Bough wants to argue that for Marx communism was almost too fantastical to ever be real. Bough claims that abundance is equal to abundant social labour-time, but even a moment’s thought will tell you this proposition is anti-materialist and actually physically impossible. There can be no unlimited time where every possible option is available, rendering no need for actual planning or choices!

Bough appears to argue that abundance means infinity. I beg to differ! And I claim there can be no near infinity, where abundance becomes so great that it might as well be infinity. Boffy slips in a few caveats to pretend he is not talking about something infinite, but I claim he really is, logically speaking. So even abundance, as Marx clearly understood it, does not mean the end of economy of time!

Abundance is a relative and not an absolute concept.

Maren Clarke


Any UK public demonstration or march in support of the Bolivarian revolution will include myself in its numbers. A march organised anywhere or by whomsoever, that is - but preferably by yourselves and other communists, and urgently so.

Lying behind this commitment are the usual motivations, but high amongst them is one created by the abject/criminal failures in this arena from Corbyn’s Labour Party. The fact that a dribble of carefully metred support only equivalent to cowardly silence is the best that Corbyn and crew can muster is a deeply despicable outrage - all as part of their bourgeois parliamentary calculation and other such electoral ‘triangulations’, it must be noted.

Labour’s de facto collaboration and enablement - all integral within that phony anti-capitalism/quasi-socialism of theirs - will be judged by history. Their so-called progressive policies and actions will be exposed as utterly treacherous/poisonously diversionary to both the national and international needs of the working class.

Of course, the Bernie Sanders-style/Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez permutation of this despicable shit should be chucked in for good measure. Where is their ‘democratic socialist’ voice on this finitely seminal matter of the assault on Venezuela?!

Bruno Kretzschmar

Kill the deal

Politics is living through a ‘ratification crisis’, lasting over a period of months, when nobody knows who, how or whether the crown’s withdrawal agreement with the European Union will be ratified or not. The crisis began in December when May pulled her deal out of a Commons ratification vote. It continued on January 15, when it was massively rejected by 230 votes in the Commons.

Such a major defeat should have sunk any government, got May sacked and brought about a general election. But Brexit has blown away any ‘normality’. There are two ways out of the ratification crisis - getting ratification by parliament or by the people. May is strongest in parliament and Corbyn has more strength amongst the people. So why would Corbyn tie himself to a contest in parliament instead of taking his ratification case to the people?

If May had any idea about democracy, she would logically appeal over the heads of the Commons to the people. She would put her withdrawal agreement to a ratification referendum. Will the people back May’s deal and overrule the Commons? But May is no democrat.

What could be worse than allowing the working class to have a vote? Every minister of the crown understands the danger of subcontracting their powers to the people. Look what happened to Cameron! So May fights by parliamentary manoeuvres. She deploys all the powers of the crown in secret deals, manipulation, bribery and corruption, etc.

By these means May can still emerge triumphant from the current debacle. She has switched tactically to the right after her heavy defeat. The chance of a ‘no deal’ option has enthused the Tory right. They are so desperate that they fell over themselves to believe the ‘good news’. May was listening ‘seriously’ to them after all! How disappointed or angry will they be?

The next step is for May to run the clock down until one minute to midnight. Then comes some cosmetic changes from her Tory friends in Europe. Next, by tacking to the ‘left’, get it through the Commons with the help of Labour MPs without the Democratic Unionist Party. Finally the knockout blow: if her withdrawal deal is ratified, she will gamble on a triumphant Falklands-style general election in June.

A ‘great’ national leader, like Churchill and Thatcher, had saved the country against all the odds. Hitler and Argentinean generals were beaten. Now May can big up as the Iron Lady taking on the German Reich. Meanwhile Corbyn could be further destabilised by demands for a second EU referendum and the stepping up of the anti-Semitism row (or ‘Israel’, as some perceptively see it).

If Corbyn doesn’t have an answer to the ratification crisis, then he will be defeated. He has tried everything and failed. He called a vote of no confidence. Then he wants a general election. Then he refused to meet May unless no deal was taken off the table. Then he met her anyway and demanded no deal. That did not work either. So he has to take his case on Europe to the country through a ratification referendum.

May has set her face against any referendum. But ‘no’ always means ‘possibly’ if there is no other way out. Meanwhile there is a wide open goal for Corbyn to shoot at. Even Arsenal wouldn’t miss such an opportunity. He has tried every other tactic to overthrow May’s deal except a ratification referendum. If we have eliminated everything else it’s the only thing left.

Corbyn cannot overthrow May by parliamentary means. He cannot win a vote of no confidence nor take ‘no deal’ off the table until it is too late. Asking or demanding May abandons her main ‘no deal’ weapon, which keeps her afloat, is never going to work. Demanding a general election while her withdrawal agreement is still alive is a waste of time. May has shown that if she cannot get her deal through parliament she can fight on. But if she cannot get it through a ratification referendum then she is as dead as Cameron.

Corbyn should confound May and all his liberal critics in the Labour Party. He should champion the people’s right to decide on May’s deal by proposing a ratification referendum. He should totally reject any idea of a second repeat/remain referendum. It is the only way we can get to a general election before May gets her deal through the Commons and then fights an election on the ground of her own choosing.

Steve Freeman


Rex Dunn is obviously well educated (‘Stalinophiles and ignoramuses’ Weekly Worker January 24). He brims with thoughts and ideas. However, at least from my experience, he sometimes gets things a tad wrong.

He paints today’s commercial fiction writers as coining it economically. Well, not if my little circle of friends and contacts is anything to go by. They barely scratch a living. No surprise, this report: most fiction writers earn “nothing or very close to nothing” (https://medium.com/@shauntagrimes/what-is-the-average-income-for-a-fiction-writer-4589bee55959).

Then there is the question of worth. Your esteemed art correspondent equates commercial motivation with worthlessness. His heroes - George Orwell, Graham Greene, Philip Roth, etc - wrote from first-hand experience and for the sake of writing. His villains write for money and produce rubbish (eg, Simon Montefiore).

Art does not conform to such a neat binary formula. Life is far more complex. William Shakespeare was a hack. He wrote for money. His plays were performed before wealthy patrons, true, but common folk too - apprentices, porters, servants, artisans. The cheapest price at the Globe theatre was one penny (= a loaf of bread). Shakespeare was typical of the commercial writers of his age. But he also happened to be a genius.

Not that he had first-hand experience of Henry V’s military campaigns in northern France, Julius Caesar’s populism, Scotland’s murderous aristocratic rivalries, nor Athens and its midsummer night’s dreamings.

There are other such writers too: Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, HG Wells, Dashiell Hammett, Dalton Trumbo, Isaac Asimov, Roald Dahl, etc. All quintessentially commercial writers. But what they produced is often far and above their now forgotten ‘art for art’s sake’ contemporaries.

Stephanie Just