Paul Demarty says that in my reply to his article, ‘May’s deal is dead as a dodo’ (January 17), I misunderstand his positions on the left in relation to Brexit, and also misunderstand matters of substance (Letters, January 31).
This is what Paul says, in relation to the 2016 vote: “Struggling to get an angle on the issue, the left had two competing guiding ideas. The first was historic opposition to the EU, inherited ultimately from cold war-vintage Communist Party politics. (This was quite as true of the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party in England and Wales, which accommodated to the trade union and Labour lefts, who were in turn primarily taking a lead from the ‘official’ CPGB.) The other was fanatical hostility to the far right.”
My reply in that regard was to set out that for the SWP, Militant and others on the left there was nothing “historic” about their opposition to the European Union. Prior to the 1970s, they all held an abstentionist position on membership of the European Economic Community. Paul’s account here is confusing, because, on the one hand, he refers to the Socialist Party, as opposed to Militant, which might lead us to think that he is talking about the current situation, and yet his reference to them accommodating to the trades union and Labour lefts, and to the official CPGB, rather than the Communist Party of Britain, suggests that he is referring to the situation in the 1970s. Given that most trades union and Labour lefts today oppose Brexit, the statement makes no sense in relation to the current situation!
Part of the problem in this discourse is that the term ‘left’ is not defined, and I admit to being guilty of this inadequacy myself. But then I have also made reference, in practice, to who I was referring to in these different conditions. In the 1970s, the far left consisted of maybe 20,000 members of groups such as the SWP, Militant and so on, in addition to which there were several thousand members of the CP - however we might characterise them (including not being part of the left at all). The largest component of left forces, however, consisted of members of the Labour Party, many of them Bennites.
Again, the point of my historical excursus was to highlight the difference between then and now. To be honest, I have little interest in what the position of the various left microsects is in this respect, because, although, even in the 1970s, they were relatively small, today they are less than insignificant. So, when Paul refers me to what caused Social Resistance to go over to ‘remain’, I can only shrug with indifference. It could just as easily have been something they read on a sticker in the phone box where they were holding their meetings.
What we have today is a situation where the left microsects, in large part, have continued to push their nationalistic position, adopted in the 1970s and after. As I also described, in part that is also due to them adopting in this respect the perspective of Sismondian anti-capitalism - also displayed as idiot anti-imperialism - in their uncritical support for assorted reactionary nationalist regimes and movements, purely on the basis of their supposed ‘anti-imperialism’. Today, however, when I talk of the left, I mean the half-million members of the Labour Party, and their opposition to Corbyn on the question of Brexit. As far as I can see, hardly any of their opposition to Brexit is due to an obsession over the far right, but is due to a healthy and progressive socialist internationalism, and modernism.
Paul berates me for not recognising that “the Tory Party’s ‘reactionary wing’ (as opposed to its progressive wing?) is part of the far right”. This seems to me to make an error that the CPGB has warned against in the past, when they criticised the SWP, in relation to their characterisation of the British National Party, for example. It’s true, as the CPGB argued some years ago, that the BNP were more characterised by their ultra-nationalism than the street violence more normally associated with fascist organisations. But the fact remains that the BNP and other such outfits have a large overlap with organisations that are engaged in such kinds of activities. It is Ukip, for example, that is being taken over by the English Defence League, not the Tory Party. The reactionary wing of the Tory Party, in the shape of people like Rees-Mogg, is characterised by their Minarchist, libertarian/anarcho-capitalist ideology, more than any attachment to fascism.
And Paul here suggests that there is something unusual about talking about the Tory Party’s “reactionary wing”, and contrasting it rhetorically with its “progressive wing”. Yet he himself says, “It is merely that the grossly undemocratic British electoral system forcibly attaches the far right to the centre-right ...” - thereby admitting that the Tory Party is not some homogeneous bloc. The terms ‘reactionary’ and ‘progressive’ are necessarily relative. The centre-right is relatively progressive compared to the far right, for instance.
But it is Paul, here, that does not exhaust the possibilities of description, and this is also where his failure of analysis of underlying material conditions and class interests lets him down. Generally speaking, fascists base themselves on a defence of the existing productive relations, and their dominant form, which is that of large-scale, socialised industrial capital. That is why Hitler, Mussolini et al proceeded on the basis of the kind of economic planning, nationalisation of core industries and use of Keynesian demand management that such large-scale capital requires for long-term investment. That is, in fact, in sharp contrast, to the ideology of the Tory right, such as Rees-Mogg, whose Minarchist, anarcho-capitalist ideology, is based upon the ideas of Mises, not Keynes, and represents a longing to turn the clock backwards from the existing set of productive and property relations to one based upon an 18th century vision of small-scale private ownership of capital (the social forces that numerically dominate the Tory Party membership and core vote), and rampant, free-market competition.
Objectively, there is a massive gulf separating the ideology that fascism represents from that which the Tory right represents today. The fascists, as happened in Germany, may also base themselves on the small capitalists, the frightened petty bourgeois, the lumpen workers etc - but only in order to provide themselves with the stormtroopers they require. It is not wholly inaccurate for the Nazis to have described themselves as National Socialists, if your definition of socialism is one that is based upon statised property, state control and so on, which is why Trotsky could describe the regime of Stalin as differing from that of Hitler only in that the regime of the former was more brutal. It is also why Stalinists can line up with fascists in support of economic nationalism, as with Brexit. A useful example is that of Oswald Mosley, who went from being a Tory to a Fabian socialist inside the Labour Party, whose Keynesian-inspired ‘Mosley manifesto’ was backed by Aneurin Bevan, and who, when Labour failed to back it, established the New Party, on his way to creating the British Union of Fascists.
The Tories’ reactionary wing are reactionary in the true sense that they objectively want to turn the clock back, in respect of productive relations. Inside the party, they are not confronted by a ‘progressive’ wing, but by a conservative, social democratic wing. That is, a wing that seeks to conserve rather than overturn the existing productive and social relations. It seeks to conserve the dominant role of large-scale socialised capital within the economy, and recognises that in order to do so not only is a large social democratic state required, but that modern capitalism, and the multinational corporations, have long since burst asunder the constraints of the nation-state, necessitating the creation of larger economic structures, such as the EU.
These forces are conservative, rather than progressive, because they want to conserve the existing productive and social relations, rather than going beyond them. They want to retain the existing role of the owners of fictitious capital (shareholders) in exercising control of real capital, even though that imposes inevitable contradictions and limitations on the accumulation of real capital itself - limitations that could only be overcome, within the confines of capitalism, by the introduction of widespread industrial democracy, and control over the socialised industrial capital, by the associated producers, as Marx puts it in Capital volume 3.
To return to the main thrust of the discussion, I think very little of the concern of the half-million Labour members is driven by fear of the far right, and nor does much of it sink into a simple lesser-evilism between backing George Osborne as ‘more progressive’ than Rees-Mogg. I think those members are quite able to recognise that opposition to Brexit can be combined with the need to go beyond the limitations imposed by the conservative social democracy represented by either Osborne or Blair, which underpins the current ideology of the EU. Indeed, many of those members were also attracted to Labour by the progressive social democratic agenda that Corbyn was putting forward, and which could only be rationally achieved at an EU level.
But I also cannot help thinking that your position is itself determined by the position that the CPGB took during the referendum. The CPGB did not fall into the ludicrous camp of those proposing Lexit, who inevitably found their attempt at a distinctive voice drowned out by the reactionary forces promoting Brexit. But, in fact, the CPGB position, of arguing for an active abstention, was even more ludicrous, because if no-one could hear the Lexiteers certainly no-one could hear the CPGB’s plaintiff cries for an abstention, in what was probably the most significant political event of the last 30 years!
In a pathetic little article on page two of the current issue of Solidarity, the absurdly titled paper of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, Sacha Ismail complains that John McDonnell avoided the issue of ‘left anti-Semitism’ at the recent Labour Representation Committee conference, despite having said such accusations were not a smear on LBC radio.
I haven’t listened to LBC radio, but I am quite prepared to accept that McDonnell did say this. If so he should be heavily criticised. This is not only wrong, but it is part of the catastrophic approach of Corbyn and his advisors to the whole false anti-Semitism witch-hunt. This acceptance of these bogus charges has, more than anything else, weakened the Corbyn leadership. If Corbyn and McDonnell had stood up from the beginning and called them out for what they were - an attempt to use the Jewish community as cover for support for Israel - then the fake anti-Semitism attack could have been killed off before it grew legs.
At a time when the main propaganda weapon of the right is ‘anti-Semitism’, when the Parliamentary Labour Party is obsessed by the apparent lack of action over the issue, when rightwing Labour members are breaking from the Labour Party precisely over this issue and when Frank Field has used ‘anti-Semitism’ as his reason for resigning the Labour whip, the fact that it still hasn’t dawned on the wooden heads of the AWL that these charges of ‘anti-Semitism’ are a ruling class narrative is proof, if any were needed, that the AWL is not a genuine socialist or leftwing group. Like many before them the AWL has capitulated to imperialism and maintained a fake militancy at home.
Not once has it condemned the vile, racist attacks on Jackie Walker - comments which reflect the mentality of white supremacism and the KKK. Unlike Luciana Berger, who received immediate police action when she received anti-Semitic comments, there has been no police or other action against the Zionist and fascist trolls who have tweeted that Jackie should be burnt alive or lynched. The AWL and Sacha Ismail are fully aware of the vile racism of Jackie’s detractors, but they prefer to concentrate their fire on a non-existent ‘left anti-Semitism’.
Not only is the AWL acting as the foot soldiers of the right within the Labour left, but they are actively complicit in the right’s witch-hunt of Jackie. This began when Jill Mountford of the AWL and fellow traveller Michael Chessum voted in support of Jon Lansman’s motion to remove Jackie as vice-chair of Momentum in October 2016. No sooner had the AWL scabbed on Jackie than Lansman put the knife into them!
The AWL’s only other criticism of John McDonnell is that he failed to support members of the AWL who have also been expelled. I must confess that this seems to be the least of John’s sins!
We don’t really have to wonder how Marx distinguished between use value, value and exchange value, because he expressed it in his response to Rodbertus and Wagner. Exchange value is merely the form value takes: in fact, as Marx says, it is wrong to speak of exchange value in the singular, because it only has meaning in comparing one commodity with another.
This is why I think Moshé Machover is wrong to assume that for Marx exchange value is particular to capitalism, while value is something that transcends all economic systems and all forms of labour (Letters, February 14). I think what Marx did was to define value as the measure and then define exchange value as the form and, as Marx says, “the ‘commodity’ is, on the one hand, use-value and, on the other, ‘value’, not exchange value, since the mere form of appearance is not its own content”. So Marx doesn’t split up these categories to show value spans all economic systems, but does it because you can’t explain exchange value by its mere form. Which, I would say, is the correct scientific procedure.
Machover thinks only of production in his vision of communism and the application of value: he forgets about distribution and consumption. His proposal is a bourgeois conception of value, in that value is determined purely by quantitative measures, but Engels makes the point that planning is not this crude: it has a qualitative aspect too. So who cares how many hours it takes to make a cruise missile? We simply are not going to make them - at least it would be hoped society arrives at this conclusion! Things will no longer rise and fall in the market place, but humanity will be involved in the plan, rather than being alienated from it. It won’t matter how many hours of labour went into a house built by the sea. If there are houses by the sea the people who live in them won’t be there because they are wealthy: no, those who live in them might be seamen or people with respiratory disease, etc.
You simply can’t transplant bourgeois concepts like value into a communist society, which would be like comparing apples with dolphins. After all, it is a revolution we are fighting for!
Not an edition of the Weekly Worker goes by without a mention of dialectics - sometimes half a dozen times. What is this thing that Marxists are always banging on about, but which no one is able to describe, demonstrate or apply to anything?
If the dialectic is real, as I believe it is - and by ‘real’ I mean ‘material’ and knowable - then it should be possible to explain it in relation to that part of material reality where it is said to apply exclusively (society). The non-dialectical laws of nature - conservation of energy, Newton’s laws, etc - are all applicable to nature. Natural science has the scientific method; Marxist dialectics so far only has a bag of aphorisms.
All Marxist works on dialectics are either a corrective rehash of Hegel with a few bits of Marx tagged on or are a medley of very abstract notions that don’t serve any explanatory purpose. Apart from Marx’s Capital, and his studies around it, I have yet to see dialectical analysis applied to anything - Engels’ Dialectic of nature being a travesty of both dialectics and the laws of nature.
In his letter of February 14, Ted Hankin misunderstands what I meant when I said: “Notoriously, one interpretation of Marxism is that it is ‘historical materialism’ or ‘dialectical and historical materialism’ - whatever these things mean” (‘Tory interpretation of history’, January 31). I am actually an advocate of a ‘dialectical-historical materialism’ interpretation of Marxism, though not a Hegelian one.
My point is merely that there is massive debate on the left - and not merely in the ‘left’ academy - about whether Marxism should be interpreted in this way and about what, if so, the expressions mean. The point of the sentence is also to set the issue of which interpretation is right on one side, because any interpretation which isn’t ‘post-modernist’ or Foucaultian ‘post-Marxism’ will have to engage with concrete historical work. Any Marxism will hence have to fight against the teaching of Toryism in university and school history departments and the mass media. The big, media-manufactured outrage about John McDonnell calling Winston Churchill a “villain” is an immediate example of the latter.