Labour Against the Witchhunt organised a successful public meeting on March 25, which featured Ken Livingstone, along with Jackie Walker and Graham Bash, opening a discussion on the current state of the left-right battle inside the Labour Party. To illustrate the gutter nature of the attacks he had been subject to, Ken reminded us of his confrontation with the noxious John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw. In the course of this, the comrade described - clearly and with no room for ambiguity - how he was insulted by this rent-a-mouth rightwing provocateur:
“He [John Mann] starts shouting in my face that I’m a Nazi apologist. He then goes on television and says that I said Hitler was a Zionist. How can a man who loathes Jews be a Zionist? But, because it was all filmed on telly, it went global. And it wasn’t just that: soon you could see it all over on the internet that I said, ‘Jews are like Nazis’ and ‘It’s not anti-Semitic to hate Jews of Israel. You can’t have a proper functioning democracy in a world in which the media can spread lie after lie after lie” (emphasis added).
Glen Owen - political editor of the Mail on Sunday - covered the meeting in the March 31 issue of his rag. As he was not present at the meeting, he must have watched the video of the event, which is on LAW’s website. And yet he still managed to totally change the meaning of Livingstone’s words - on purpose, of course. This is how the Mail on Sunday reports this quote: “The former mayor of London continued: ‘It’s not anti-Semitic to hate the Jews of Israel and you can’t have a proper functioning democracy in a world in which the media, whether it’s the press or internet, can just spread lie after lie after lie.’”
In other words, he left out the preceding comments from Ken which made it crystal-clear he was reporting what others had accused him of - absurd charges that he ridiculed and refuted utterly! Yet the article informs its readers, even in the headline, that Livingstone stated: “It’s not anti-Semitic to hate Jews of Israel”!
LAW comrades quickly responded and great credit is due to them. After a deluge of complaints and demands for retraction, the paper was eventually forced to issue a long-overdue apology to Livingstone (printed in its April 7 edition), which conceded that it had “incorrectly reported that Mr Livingstone had said it was not anti-Semitic to hate the Jews of Israel. In fact, he told the meeting the claim he had said such a thing was one of the lies being spread about him. We apologise for this error.”
Pleasing as this is, Ken’s victory statement makes the obvious point that, while the “correction is welcome”, it “does not change the fact that thousands of people saw - and other media outlets reprinted - these lies”. He writes that we must “continue to challenge how parts of the media act, spreading lie after lie”. A point, of course, he made at the March 25 meeting itself that was so maliciously misquoted.
True, but this mendacity is intrinsic to their nature as propagandists for a capitalist system of exploitation and oppression that projects itself as ‘democracy’. This requires a constant manufacture of consent from the masses and demonisation of the socialist alternative. The only genuinely effective way to “challenge” the lies of the Mail, etc, is for the left of the workers’ movement to build its own, multi-platform media to wage a battle against the deluge of lying shit these outlets pump out every hour of every day.
The occasional grudging apology, tucked away where it can be easily missed, is not enough. This is a war between two world views and the idea that we can appeal to our enemies’ propaganda machine for a fair hearing is way beyond naive.
I have the greatest respect for Dave Douglass and his record of struggle in the National Union of Mineworkers (Letters, April 4). I certainly didn’t intend to suggest in my last letter that Dave was a racist or a chauvinist and I’m not suggesting that Dave is in an actual alliance with the Democratic Unionist Party. But it is a fact that it is the DUP and the most reactionary political parties - be it in Ireland, Britain or Europe - that are lined up behind the Brexit project. Of course, I accept that Dave is a supporter of Irish unification, but he should reflect that Sinn Féin and Irish republicans are overwhelmingly hostile to Brexit.
Nor am I saying that Dave has physically or politically made an alliance with racists. However, the motivating force behind Brexit is, without doubt, chauvinistic and racist. It was not for nothing that Jon Snow remarked of the thousands of Brexit demonstrators in Whitehall that “I’ve never seen so many white people in one place”.
Dave refers to the “European Union superstate project” as if this were a bad thing. The original motivation behind what became the EU was a progressive one - the burying of national antagonisms, which had led to European war, and the pooling of economic resources across states. Of course, the EU is not a socialist project. It is precisely because capitalism is based on the nation-state that the EU is unable to progress beyond the harmonisation of laws and standardisation of selling arrangements, etc. It is the capitalist nature of the EU that prevents the very European superstate that Dave fears. It is only on a socialist basis that a true European union can take place.
However, the opposition to even the most basic steps towards European union is reactionary and consists of nostalgia for the times when Britain ruled the waves. It is in essence imperial nostalgia. As Gary Younge of The Guardian wrote, “There were lots of reasons why people voted to leave the European Union, some of which were perfectly reasonable. But it would be more accurate to state that racism - particularly expressed in the form of nostalgia and xenophobia - helped to make Brexit possible, rather than the other way around.”
Dave denies that those who advocate leaving the EU are arguing for an independent capitalist Britain. Perhaps not consciously, but that is what they will get. Of course, it is not independent in practice - it will be subject to the forces of international capitalism, the banks and multinational corporations, to say nothing of US capitalism - but that is how many of those supporting Brexit see it.
Those who see something progressive in leaving the EU are not suggesting that we join a club of socialist states. What they are advocating is the equivalent of those who saw something progressive in abandoning the factory production line in favour of cottage industries. It was called by Marx and Engels in The communist manifesto “feudal socialism”: “half lamentation, half lampoon; half an echo of the past, half menace of the future; at times, by its bitter, witty and incisive criticism, striking the bourgeoisie to the very heart’s core; but always ludicrous in its effect, through total incapacity to comprehend the march of modern history”.
I cannot agree that free movement of labour is aimed at breaking the labour movement and trade unions and implicitly responsible for low wages. The responsibility for low wages, the decline of trade unions in Britain and the collapse of industrial militancy is not other workers, but a combination of anti-trade union laws, coupled with a permanent high level of unemployment, disguised as self-employment and part-time employment.
The task of British workers is to organise migrant labour and combine with them in a common struggle. It is precisely the defeat of the miners and other workers, reflected in historically low levels of strikes, that has led workers to look to nationalist panaceas and solutions. It is the backward politics of British workers and their illusions in national sovereignty that hold them back and prevent a challenge to the leaderships of their own trade unions. This argument is not a new one.
When Jewish workers came to this country in the late 19th century, the same arguments were made. It was said that, because they were prepared to work in sweatshops for long hours at low pay, this would cause the wages of native labour to decline and unemployment to increase. Reactionary Tory politicians like William Evans-Gordon MP of the British Brothers League campaigned around the ‘threat’ that Jewish workers posed to British workers.
The TUC repeatedly called for anti-alien legislation in the 1880s and beyond. Because of this hostility Jewish workers were forced to form their own trade unions and unionise the clothing shops. They proved an example to non-Jewish workers in their solidarity and determination. It was through the tailors strike in 1912 and then the support of Jewish workers for striking dockers that unity was forged, which led later to the anti-fascist mobilisation of Jewish and non-Jewish workers at Cable Street.
Support for immigration controls plays into the hands of the capitalists. It instils the illusion that the capitalist state will act on behalf of indigenous labour rather than playing divide and rule. That is why anti-union Tory politicians express their sympathies for workers facing the ‘problem’ of immigrant workers.
Brexit has caused fear and trepidation amongst European migrants in Britain. They were undemocratically excluded from participation in the referendum - which was anything but democratic, as Dave asserts. Those who support Brexit are sowing illusions that the problems of the British working class are caused by Europe rather than by capitalism - British or European.
Given what is going on in the world, I thought I would look at what Guy Debord had to say. I knew that he was a well-known situationist in the 1960s and that he’d written The society of the spectacle (1967), and it struck me that “the spectacle” was quite a good way of looking at Brexit. It has dominated the mainstream news for the last three years - in which time nothing much has changed. How could it be a big story? The MPs and electors of both parties are split and Theresa May doesn’t know what to do - and I haven’t noticed her critics coming up with anything usable either.
But Brexit is a secondary issue. There are far more important things going on in the world: for instance, global warming, species extinctions, plastic, particulates, austerity, child poverty and all the sadistic cruelties of this government, such as the “hostile environment” and the relentless cuts in youth facilities and the NHS. They do make the headlines from time to time, but then the next Brexit ‘news’ comes along …
And the other big “spectacle” - Donald Trump! He himself seems to be a master of the spectacle, with his ‘wall’, his war on ‘fake news’ and so on, but the Democrats are at least as bad (or good?). With elections every two years, the US is in a constant election news hubbub and the elected are in a constant battle for money.
And Trump is a secondary issue too: children snatched from their parents, as they also were under Obama, tax cuts, environmental vandalism and the relentless creep to war - as Yassamine Mather pointed out in last week’s paper (‘New threats in the offing’, April 4).
Two big “spectacles” then, diverting attention from really important things. So I read Debord’s 1988 Comments on ‘The society of the spectacle’. It is a strangely written work that takes a little bit of getting used to and it is, I suppose, an elaboration of the well known Marx-Engels quote from The German ideology: “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas.” Or even the old idea of ‘bread and circuses’ - though there is a good deal more to Debord than that. He has much to say about democracy, terrorism and surveillance - to mention a few tidbits.
The ruling class try to keep everybody busy with religion, racism, nationalism or just entertainment - anything but class. Or, if it can’t be avoided, then just comfy things like elections or rows in our own beloved Labour Party - an anti-Semitism smear campaign works a treat. You anti-Semites aren’t going to smuggle socialism into the party!
But Trump and Brexit - they are “the spectacle” and I think Guy Debord had a point. And we are going to have to crush or side-step the spectacles if we are going to defeat the ruling class.
Say no more
I will not go into great detail in response to Arthur Bough’s letter (April 4), because Marx has already dealt with this question in his The poverty of philosophy!
Arthur Bough’s last paragraph demonstrates how he reduces value theory to how long it takes to make a product; this is the same ahistorical and unscientific approach Marx criticised in his polemics against Proudhon and those bourgeois economists who reduced society to Robinson Crusoe on his island. While Marx mocked this approach, Bough wants to make it the cornerstone and the sum total of Marxian value theory. Talk about stripping away from Marx all his brilliant insights and eviscerating Marx’s critique of all its richness and profundity.
And this is why Boffy can’t see the connection between exchange, private property and value, and the influence of competition, the division of labour, etc, that underpin it. He simply doesn’t understand the nature of Marx’s critique of capitalism, its alienating aspects, etc. Let me quote from The poverty of philosophy:
“Ricardo takes his starting point from present-day society to demonstrate to us how it constitutes value - M Proudhon takes constituted value as his starting point to construct a new social world with the aid of this value ... Thus relative value, measured by labour-time, is inevitably the formula of the present enslavement of the worker, instead of being, as M Proudhon would have it, the ‘revolutionary theory’ of the emancipation of the proletariat.”
Simply take the above and replace ‘M Proudhon’ with ‘A Bough’.
Furthermore, in The poverty of philosophy Marx illustrates the value system of bourgeois society: “Why are cotton, potatoes and spirits the pivots of bourgeois society? Because the least amount of labour is needed to produce them and, consequently, they have the lowest price. Why does the minimum price determine the maximum consumption? Is it by any chance because of the absolute utility of these objects, their intrinsic utility, their utility insomuch as they correspond, in the most useful manner, in the needs of the worker as a man, and not to the man as a worker? No, it is because in a society founded on poverty the poorest products have the fatal prerogative of being used by the greatest number.”
He then indicates how communism will differ: “In a future society, in which class antagonism will have ceased, in which there will no longer be any classes, use will no longer be determined by the minimum time of production; but the time of production devoted to different articles will be determined by the degree of their social utility.”
I really don’t think any more can be said.
Stephanie Just writes that socialism “championed rapid economic growth” (Letters, April 4). Yet she does not really explain why this was the case. Sylvia Pankhurst in 1923 explained: “We do not preach a gospel of want and scarcity, but of abundance ... We do not call for limitation of births, for penurious thrift and self-denial. We call for a great production that will supply all, and more than all the people can consume.”
Ending poverty is the goal of socialism. Humanity is capable of integrating into a sustainable ecosystem and creating for itself an ecologically benign relationship with nature. Socialists are ultimately striving for a ‘steady-state’ or ‘zero-growth’ economy, which corresponds to what Marx called “simple reproduction” - a situation where human needs are in balance with the resources needed to satisfy them. Such a society will decide the allocation of resources to provide for the needs of its communities and it would only have to go on repeating this continuously. Production would not be ever-increasing, but would be stabilised at the level required to satisfy people’s needs.
Society’s output would be for consumption and whatever is required to replace and repair the raw materials and machinery. However, it may not mean an overall growth in production levels, as the redundancy and consequent redirection of socially wasteful production, such as the armament industries, will lessen the demand made on resources and energy.
But, before that is achieved, emergency action is essential to relieve the problem of shortages, which is inflicted upon billions of people throughout the world, depriving them of a decent life. It means providing for immediate necessities, such as food, healthcare and housing, along with the building infrastructures, such as transport systems and reconstructing crowded cities.
It is when this is accomplished that there can be a reduction in production, and society would achieve a rhythm of daily production in line with daily needs, with little significant growth. On this basis, the world community could reconcile our material well-being and the stewardship of our planet.
Stephanie is right when she says, “we need to have a good look at ourselves”. But we also should take a good look at what is the future we must aspire towards.
Socialist Party of Great Britain
Once again I must apologise to Stephanie Just, this time for being politically incorrect, in my letter of March 28: eg, my use of the word ‘man’ (which used to be a generic word for the human species).
She also takes me to task for daring to question the idea that climate change is entirely man-made (there I go again). Whilst the capitalistocene age must be responsible for much of global warming since the beginning of industrial capitalism (a very short period of time indeed in geological terms), natural causes may still be a contributing factor. According to the latest research, scientists have discovered the remains of fossil forests in Antarctica, which suggests that, long before capitalism appeared on the scene, the earth was once an awful lot warmer than it is rapidly becoming today.
Stephanie then goes on to insist that Trotsky was just as guilty as Stalinism, because “he showed little appreciation of ecology and the necessity of treating nature with respect and sensitivity”. I beg to differ. She fails to appreciate the fact that, as a rational optimist (like Marx and Engels before him), Trotsky assumed that the world socialist revolution could be renewed, despite the defeats during the period 1919-23), upon which the building of socialism in the Soviet Union depended: ie, socialism is international in character; it is also based on a planned economy under the democratic control of the masses. Of course, Trotsky underestimated the fact that, given the defeat of the world revolution, the party had already degenerated into bureaucratic centralism, which ensured the victory of the Stalinist counterrevolution. Hindsight is a wonderful thing! As a result, his hopes for building socialism in the Soviet Union were dashed, as history would soon show.
Therefore Stephanie ignores the context in which Trotsky spoke about the revolutionary masses being able to move mountains, change the course of rivers, etc. As Marx himself says in Capital volume 3, Trotsky looked forward to the emergence of a communist society, wherein “the associated producers regulate their interchange with nature rationally [in order] to bring it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by some blind power”.
Next Stephanie fails to give due emphasis to the fact that her quote comes from the final chapter in Trotsky’s Literature and revolution (1924). In other words, it comes from a book about literature - and art - in general. Upon the attainment of a communist society, art will be reintegrated with production (as it once was). In the conclusion to his book, Trotsky goes beyond a discourse about art during the revolution to speculate about what it might be like under socialism, wherein it will cease to be partisan, because now “solidarity will be the basis of society ... Art will become the most perfect method for the progressive building of life in every field.”
The nearest equivalent to what Trotsky is talking about here is the emergence of land art in the 1970s. This was a response to the dominance of abstract expressionism, along with conceptual art. As Robert Hughes says in The shock of the new (1991), “[James] Turrell’s ongoing project involves the partial transformation of the entire, perfect cone of Roden Crater in Arizona.” Whereas the former has no wish to escape commodification, whereby art is bought and sold in order to realise a profit for those who are already rich, at least the latter makes this more difficult. Of course, there is a huge difference here. Trotsky is talking about moving mountains, only because it might be necessary - albeit in a way which is both sensitive to the needs of the rest of nature, as well as being aesthetic in character. Turrell, of course, wanted to transform a mountain as a personal vanity project, because he had the money to do so.
How so? If only Stephanie had read Trotsky’s final chapter more thoroughly, she would have found the following remarks. Rather than destroy external nature in accordance with their own collective ego, “Through the machine”, socialist men and women “will command nature in its entirety, with its grouse and its sturgeons ... Most likely, thickets and forests and grouse and tigers will remain, but only where man commands them to remain. And man [sic] will do it so well that the tiger won’t even notice the machine, or feel the change, but will live as he lived in primal times.” This is in comparison to the destructive effects of capitalism, which threatens the future existence of the entire ecosystem.
Last month, I approached the Stop the War Coalition, asking them to list on their website our Gaza rally (one of only two in Scotland, and the only one for Glasgow) among the events for the March 30 day of action in solidarity with the Palestinian right to return. They refused to include our protest, organised by the Zionism is Racism coalition.
When I called Stop the War, they said they would not list it because they didn’t like who was involved in ZIR. They said they had been looking into our background and “didn’t want to be associated with us in any way”. When I asked for details they refused any. When I asked for the name of the person I was talking to, they hung up. I tried calling again. The phone rang out.
I then gained the support of the ZIR coalition to explore this. So I wrote to the president, the patrons and the officers of Stop the War on behalf of the coalition. I explained that we are a group of 12 grassroots and campaign bodies who came together to convince Stand Up To Racism not to allow Zionists to march with Israeli flags. For so doing, it would seem we have been blacklisted by Stop the War with no explanation.
I explained that most cities in the UK were listed on the STWC webpage for the day of action - bar Glasgow. Although there was a Glasgow Gaza protest, no-one from Scotland or the media looking at the STWC site would know - and would assume there were few Gaza supporters in Glasgow.
I have been told that Stop the War in Glasgow is run by the Socialist Workers Party and it is the SWP who organise the SUTR marches that are so accommodating to Zionists. The SWP too, it seems, support the ‘bogus anti-Semitism’ campaign established and funded by Israel to discredit Corbyn and the pro-Palestine movement. Thus, it seems to me that the STWC takes its decisions based on SWP preferences, which are sympathetic to Zionism. So we are blacklisted because we oppose Zionism.
The Scottish Green Party has said it was not appropriate to involve a group which defends the actions of an overtly racist state in a march against racism. This is a position that we in the Zionism is Racism coalition would support. Note we have the support of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network. But not one of the officers and patrons I wrote to responded. We had an excellent protest, however - 100 folk turned up. But we might have had more, had Stop the War acknowledged our existence.
It seems these ‘celebrity activists’ are complicit in having hitched themselves to a parasitical organisation that milks the public for cash, whilst pretending to be anti-war, but doing little more than running a website, employing pro-Zionist staff and fooling an awful lot of people into giving them money. That those august ‘celebrity-activists’ turn a willing blind eye to the shenanigans of the body they value so much says something about them (as ‘busy people’ who care so little about the body they represent that they cannot even bring themselves to acknowledge receipt of a complaint). They are sleeping partners of pro-Zionist forces. Of course, I accept that some of them may not have seen my FB message/tweet/email. But all 27? I think not. Sadly, I doubt they care as to how their reputation has become tarnished by association with manipulative pro-Zionist forces, but they should do.
The funny thing is, all these celebs have been taken for a ride and actually think they are involved with a pro-Palestine body. I advise all Weekly Worker readers to share this article far and wide, to highlight how effectively our valued institutions have become infected and manipulated by those who promote Israel. It is because of this kind of Zionist infiltration that I propose setting up a new campaign group: Labour Against Zionist Infiltration - or Lazi, for short, which is a working title.
Recently I was suspended by the Labour Party. The Jewish News carried the story five days before I was told. Labour HQ is leaky as a sieve and the experiences of Asa Winstanley, Jackie Walker and others suggest the place is riddled with Zionists. I think it is time for action.
I shall seek support from Labour Against the Witchhunt for Lazi, as I know Zionism is a subject close to their hearts. In spite of early rejections from two LAW officers, I aim to take the idea of Lazi to the members meeting on May 4. I hope that the LAWyers may prove more supportive than those on their steering group who have rebuffed me - possibly considering me a clumsy oaf who will make them all hostages to fortune.
A few of us in Edinburgh have drafted a ‘working rulebook’ and I invite Weekly Worker readers to have a look at it at www.tinyurl.com/laziwork and make their own minds up. Tell me what you think. We are soon heading into a general election, I think, and the Zionist machine will be moving up a gear, as it always does at elections. The Israeli embassy will have a big war chest set aside to ensure Corbyn’s destruction, so we must make speed.
I must make clear that this is just a ‘working rulebook’ (I mean, why should the IHRA, with its ‘working definition’, get all the fun?). The idea is that the aims and policies are open to comment and correction until after May 4. At which point I hope it might have been finally amended at the LAW members meeting - and, if it fails to get support there, we’ll just launch it officially anyway.
It would be good to get feedback from your readers in the meantime. Go to www.tinyurl.com/laziwork.
In my letter last week I reported on the student occupation of a building at Goldsmiths College, University of London. If anyone was wondering about the location of this building, it’s Deptford Town Hall, New Cross Road, London SE14. For anyone who wants to follow the occupation online, the Twitter addresses are #GoldOccupy and gold_anti_racism@GoldAntiRacism.