Having respected Tony Greenstein’s knowledge and contribution to the Palestinian cause for at least three decades, I have to say I found his response to my letter on the parliamentary coup against the referendum result unworthy of him (Letters, March 28). His monochrome, cardboard-cut-out, stereotypical image of ‘leave’ voters is rather pathetic. You can’t write off the bulk of the working class as proto-fascists and nationalists.
To say I am in an “unholy alliance” with the Democratic Unionist Party is beyond belief. I want Britain out of Ireland, now and unconditionally - I have stated that many times. Tony clearly doesn’t know my political history, to say something as bizarre as that. I don’t believe in a border in Ireland - I have fought British imperialism in Ireland all my life - and it shows the base level the discussion has reached with personal attacks like that.
We have all been outraged at the totally unfounded accusations made against many in the Labour and trade union movement of racist anti-Semitism, and the new definition drawn up to allow a more liberal application of this slander. Yet here we have Tony doing the same thing - saying I have joined the racists. Presumably the new definition includes anyone who opposes the European Union superstate project. To say that I and millions of other ‘leave’ voters are now in the same boat as Rees-Mogg and Johnson or the UK Independence Party is just hysterical, insulting rubbish. In the main these are workers who have always been at the sharp end of class struggle, the bedrock of traditional labour and communist movements.
Tony says because we voted out we believe we have more in common with the British state than the European ruling class. Pardon? We have nothing in common with the so-called ‘British state’ or the EU state, or either of their ruling classes: we are not choosing states. I hate the UK state, but nobody has given me a vote on leaving it or seeking some new arrangement. As I stated in a previous letter, I am for Britain out of Ireland and the EU, Ireland out of the EU, Scotland out of the EU and the UK. Nobody - well, none of my workmates or neighbours - identifies with the British ruling class: you’re having a laugh. But why would identifying with the European ruling class rather than the British one be more beneficial? I don’t need to explain the nature of the EU or its motives and drivers - this was eloquently done by Jack Conrad and Eddie Ford in last week’s paper, who also exposed the powers behind the ‘second referendum’ and ‘remain’ protests. That’s the camp that Tony’s standing in, by the way.
The number of liberal leftists who turned out to wag their little tails and cheer at back-stabbing bastards like Chuka Umunna, Thatcher-number-two Soubry and Mandelson, with the support and finance of billionaires, bankers, businessmen and millionaire loveys, shows how shallow their understanding of class politics is. Didn’t it dawn on them when they saw placards mocking the working class, or sang “Where’s Jeremy Corbyn?”, that this was the founding rally of a new Blairite-Thatcherite party?
The reason why the ‘Leave Means Leave’ march from Sunderland didn’t have me and thousands of trade union militants, former industrial workers and the mining communities represented as such was because Farage and Ukip were on it. Led by a bevy of Union Jacks and St George Flags (though not as many as I have burned in my lifetime), I wouldn’t have been found dead on such a march - and neither would the bulk of working class socialists who voted out. The mining union and communities have always been great internationalists and still are - our rejection of the EU state is no more an indication of anti-European sentiments than my rejection of the UK state is ‘anti-British’.
However, the EU has been waging an incessant war against European coal communities. It was the pro-‘remain’ Ed Miliband - MP for the constituency with the second-last coal mine in Britain - who drew up the most draconian anti-coal regulations for the EU and who drafted the tripartite agreement that pledged, whichever government was elected, they would cease coal-fired power generation by next year. Who was it at the head of the industrial genocide of the 1990s? ‘Remain’ evangelists John Major and Michael Heseltine. Who for 13 years did nothing to invest in carbon capture and storage or other clean-coal technologies, and oversaw the steady social decay of the coalfields? Blair and Brown, champions of ‘remain’. When these same people, along with Cameron and the leaders of all the political parties, came advising us that the EU was good for us and they knew best, those communities said ‘Bollocks!’ It was an entirely class reaction, not a nationalist one.
An “independent capitalist Britain”? For god’s sake, Tony, get a grip. World corporations and banks run capitalism internationally, including in Britain, in or out of the EU. It’s just they strongly prefer staying in, because it maximises their profits and reduces workers across Europe to the lowest common denominator. Free movement is aimed at breaking labour movement controls and restrictions, and strong union identities. But nobody is arguing immigration will come to an end - of course not: European and world migration here will continue. The only difference is, it will not be aimed at allowing EU workers in unrestricted and keeping most other people out.
Wages, conditions and food standards are political issues - they are features of the class war. In or out, they have to be fought for independently by the working class, regardless of which state we live under.
Jack Conrad says: “the UK is in the grip of a profound constitutional crisis”; and “the left must reject referendums as a matter of principle” and instead “we need our own programme and our own tactics” (‘Time to end the tailism’, March 28).
The first and last of these three statements are undoubtedly correct. A “profound constitutional crisis” and the need for “our own programme and our own tactics” go together. But the meaty “principle” in the sandwich is surely infected with mad cow disease. Nice bread, but crap sandwich.
Let us ignore the constitutional crisis and concentrate on programme and tactics by contrasting three examples - Corbyn Labour, Labour Party Marxists and a working class democratic programme and tactics.
The Corbyn Labour Party accepts the 2016 referendum result and is in favour of leaving the EU by securing a customs union and close regulatory alignment. Labour calls for a general election and is prepared to support a second ‘remain’ referendum. This places Labour in a dangerous position just to the left of the Tories.
Labour Party Marxists seem to support a British (or UKanian) republic, etc. This is like the CPGB programme from 10 or 20 years before Cameron’s Brexit referendum. It has little or nothing to say about Brexit except to oppose a second referendum.
A democratic programme supports Northern Ireland and Scotland remaining in the EU, and England and Wales leaving, but not the single market or customs union. Such a democratic exit recognises the ‘will of the people’, which, despite its obvious flaws, remains valid until working class opinion changes significantly.
A democratic exit is totally opposed to every kind of British exit, whether Tory or Labour. Of course, no democrat would try to impose a democratic exit on the people. So this includes the democratic demand for a ratification referendum on any deal.
The EU is, as Jack describes, a capitalist semi-state with “anti-union laws” and a “constitutional commitment to the market and neoliberalism”, which has imposed “barbaric austerity on Spain, Portugal and Greece” and more. Yet this is not a case for leaving the EU, because outside will be worse. Working class democracy is not neutral between “reactionaries” and “liberals”. The future of democracy is in Europe, not outside it. We need an independent, democratic programme which links our democratic future with the future of European democracy.
With Corbyn talking about a deal with May, working class democrats have to make the democratic case that any dodgy deal must be put to working people for ratification in a referendum, whether a Tory or a Labour deal or a Tory-Labour deal. The problem with Jack’s ‘no referendum’ principle is that it is incapable of distinguishing between a ratification referendum, like on the Good Friday agreement, and a second referendum, like Scotland’s plans for IndieRef2.
Maren Clarke asserts that I have the same mistaken understanding of Marx’s law of value as Wagner, which “Marx sought fit to correct” (Letters, March 28). She provides no argument nor evidence to back up this claim. As I said some years ago, in a discussion with Paul B Smith, it’s difficult to respond succinctly to unsupported assertions without the discussion being a meaningless pantomime of ‘Oh yes, it is’ and ‘Oh no, it isn’t’.
She says: “The truth is that value is an historical development - over many centuries ...” At least that’s not claiming it sprung into existence fully formed. But she then has to square that with Engels’ description of commodities exchanging at their values during a period of 10 millennia, and Marx’s analysis that during this period commodities are produced and exchanged by independent commodity producers, and that it is the onset of capitalism - competition between capitals - which results in exchange of commodities not at their values, but at prices of production.
She continues: “The idea that people need to labour to reproduce their conditions of existence is not Marx’s theory of value and it should not be misunderstood to be.” But it is, which is precisely what Marx says in his letter to Kugelmann, which sets out Marx’s understanding of the term ‘value’, and of the law of value, as I cited in my previous letter.
Those real relationships are those of the exchange of labour-time, which underlies the exchange of commodities, but which is obscured by exchange-value, and creates commodity fetishism. And the fact is that Marx could not be clearer that it is these “real relationships” based upon the law of value that exist across all modes of production. He could not be clearer, than his comment in Capital volume 3, chapter 49, which I also cited in my previous letter. Or, indeed, when he writes in The critique of the Gotha programme, about these same relationships under communism:
“Here, obviously, the same principle prevails as that which regulates the exchange of commodities, as far as this is exchange of equal values ... the same principle prevails as in the exchange of commodity equivalents: a given amount of labour in one form is exchanged for an equal amount of labour in another form.”
Maren seems dogmatically blind to Marx’s and Engels’ use of the term ‘value’ in all of these statements about the “real relations” that exist between real human beings, resulting from the materially determined conditions of their existence, and the need to produce in order to reproduce themselves.
Marx did indeed, Maren says, analyse the underlying mechanisms that underpinned capitalist society, but it’s an historical analysis. Its starting point is not capital, but the commodity, which has existed for 10,000 years! As Marx describes, it occurs within the context of a range of modes of production - from the primitive commune and exchange of commodities between nomadic tribes, to slave-owning societies in antiquity, to the Asiatic mode of production, to feudalism, through to capitalism. All, of this pre-history is a necessary historical development, because on the basis of commodity production and exchange, as Marx sets out in Capital volume 1, chapter 3, we get the development of the value form and finally the universal equivalent form of value, as one commodity is singled out to be the money commodity, which measures the exchange-value of every other commodity.
Without all that we don’t get money - the representation of exchange-value incarnate - which predates capitalism by thousands of years, and without which it is impossible to get money hoarding and, thereby, for it to begin to act as capital.
Maren quotes Marx’s comment, in relation to Mill, but misunderstands entirely the point that Marx is making. What Marx is setting out is that the commodity comprises two contradictory components - use value and value. Marx’s comment is part of his critique of Say’s Law that there can be no overproduction, because supply creates its own demand.
In fact, rather undermining the idea that Marx believes that the category ‘value’ only exists under capitalism, Marx’s analysis in Theories of surplus value, chapter 17, explaining the fallacy involved in Say’s Law, shows that it only applies under systems of barter, whereby the producers of commodities exchange them, at their value, in return for other commodities, precisely because they require these commodities as use-values for their own consumption. What Marx sets out, in relation to Mill, is not that value comes into existence with exchange - indeed in his later critique of Bailey and others subjectivists, Marx demonstrates the impossibility of that being the case - but that, as soon as exchanges are conducted on the basis of a money economy, the value that resides in the commodity itself takes on an independent existence.
In a money economy - which arises fairly quickly after commodity exchange develops, with commonly traded commodities, such as cattle, being used as money commodities - instead of C-C, we have C-M-C, and now the value existing within the commodity takes on independent existence. A sells 10 litres of wine to B, but, instead of obtaining a bible in exchange, receives, say, a gold coin, of equal value. A does not desire the coin for its use-value, but precisely because it is an independent physical representation of value itself. Value has thereby become alienated from the commodity. Indeed, the use-value of the coin is not that it is a commodity, desired for consumption, but precisely that, as exchange-value incarnate, it acts as the general commodity: its use value, as money, is that it can be exchanged for any other commodity of equal value.
Marx is not at all saying that value itself comes into existence as a result of this exchange of commodities. Everything he writes, in this analysis in Theories of surplus value, says the opposite: the value inherent within every product, and thereby within every commodity, takes on an independent existence as a result of the process of exchange. But, by definition, it can only take on an independent existence if, prior to this, it already existed, and was not independent: ie, was inseparable from the product/commodity itself.
Maren’s last paragraph is a non-sequitur. The question of abolishing private property by the establishment of communism has nothing to do with the question of whether the products produced by such a society are values or not - less still, whether, as Marx and Engels did, we choose to label the labour-time required to produce those products their ‘values’, or anything else we see fit.
Anyone who thinks that college politics is all about student unions ‘no platforming’ current affairs speakers should check out Goldsmiths College (London University) in New Cross, SE14, where a building has been occupied by students, who wish to open up the whole question of the actual environment a university should provide. The occupation began on March 12 over one issue - racism - but has now brought forth a whole list of demands and a timetable of conferences and events that welcome everybody.
Recently during student union elections, the posters of a candidate for education officer, Hamna Imran, were torn down and defaced with racist graffiti. However, as one student commented, “The more we talked, the more came out about how angry we were about so many different things.” These included the treatment of college cleaners and the fact that the frontage of one college building bears four statues identified with colonialism and plantation slavery.
The group then decided to occupy that building and come up with a manifesto of demands to turn the university into a more community-led and anti-oppression environment. The college management tried to end the occupation by making it difficult for others to get into the building. But the students stayed and also began holding events - film shows, workshops, lectures and a conference last Thursday - inviting anyone to come in and participate if they supported the students’ demands.
Having visited the occupation last week, I see this as a movement that has come out of the conflict between a new, diverse generation of students and an educational institution which is under state pressure to become more training-oriented. The university senior management team replied on April 1, answering some of the occupy manifesto in their own 10-page document. They did promise that the main union, Unison, would be involved in talks about improved access to college facilities by in-house staff, like cleaners and security workers. However, they also stated that consultation would have to be extensive on the issue of the frontage statues, in recognition of “the shared heritage” of “maritime history in the design of the building”. The statues, by the way, include Francis Drake, stealer of slaves from the Spanish, and Horatio Nelson, close supporter of Caribbean planters. The lack of interest in these emblems of colonial slavery speaks of a complacency that amounts to a vested interest in the status quo.
On the issues of racism and hate crime reporting, they offered mandatory staff training in anti-racism and addressing the practical difficulties of reporting criminal behaviour. I well remember the mission statements in the office of one department when I worked there as a tutor. They were all for equal treatment, but it didn’t stop one official telling an African student of mine that “you people think you don’t have to pay the fees”. When I looked into it, I found office staff very prepared to repel my enquiry. They told me that the student had gone around the place shouting.
In the chamber I visited, there were posters on Israel as an apartheid state, and others reminding us that “Silence is violence”, as well as art works and wall sheets dealing with everything from trans rights to a cooking rota. The occupation has opened up the place for events, games sessions and alternative pedagogy.
Anyone who wishes to hold ‘teach-outs’ (open educational sessions) on any subject can get in touch and offer their services (firstname.lastname@example.org); those who just want to visit to listen and learn are equally welcome.
Rex Dunn writes tellingly of the ‘capitalistocene’ (Letters, March 28). Rightly, he highlights the undeniable evidence of climate change and the recent accelerating rate of ecological destruction.
He claims, however, that the jury is still out, when it comes to the contribution made by “man” (sic) to climate change. Surely not. The ‘jury’ - certainly climatologists, and conservative institutions such as the International Panel on Climate Change - are pretty emphatic: humans are the “major cause” of global warming (Union of Concerned Scientists).
He goes on to say that capitalism “is entirely responsible” for ecological destruction: eg, soil erosion, use of pesticides, plastic waste, urban pollution caused by cars, etc. Hence his call to drop talk of a new Anthropocene age. Instead, he says, we should be talking about the capitalistocene.
With good reason Rex Dunn mocks the idea of a “green new deal” under capitalism. Capitalism is predicated on production for the sake of production. As a system it is therefore uniquely destructive. Capitalism certainly bears prime responsibility for global warming and the increasing rate of ecological destruction.
However, we need to have a good look at ourselves. The socialist movement has often championed rapid economic growth as being entirely unproblematic. Indeed the socialist movement has often identified itself with the development of the means of production. Till recent times, the writings of Marx, not least in Capital, on healing the metabolic rift with nature, the destruction of the eco-system and water and air pollution, were widely forgotten.
Nor should we forget the horrendous ecological record of the Soviet Union and other such countries. Lakes were poisoned and depleted, rivers polluted, air made unbreathable and radio active waste criminally discarded all over the place. Towards the end of the system life expectancy, especially for males, went into steep decline.
And it would be foolish to simply put this down to Stalinism. Sadly, Leon Trotsky showed little appreciation of ecology and the necessity of treating nature with respect and sensitivity. Hence he writes:
“The present distribution of mountains and rivers, of fields, of meadows, of steppes, of forests and of seashores cannot be considered final. Man has already made changes in the map of nature that are not few nor insignificant. But they are mere pupils’ practice in comparison with what is coming. Faith merely promises to move mountains; but technology, which takes nothing ‘on faith’, is actually able to cut down mountains and move them. Up to now this was done for industrial purposes (mines) or for railways (tunnels); in the future this will be done on an immeasurably larger scale, according to a general industrial and artistic plan. Man will occupy himself with reregistering mountains and rivers, and will earnestly and repeatedly make improvements in nature. In the end, he will have rebuilt the earth, if not in his own image, at least according to his own taste. We have not the slightest fear that this taste will be bad” (www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1924/lit_revo/ch08.htm).