Not the answer
Ian Birchall argues that we should learn from Extinction Rebellion rather than try to lecture them, but this misses the mark (Letters, May 2). The fact that XR doesn’t have an anti-capitalist programme is caused by the fact that its composition is not working class: it is a movement of the liberal middle class. This becomes very clear in their relation to the police, where they can shout their love for them, while their comrades are being arrested. No regard for the police role under capitalism and white supremacy.
Furthermore, disjointed and random direct actions will never by themselves create structural change - and neither will seeing the struggle against climate change as its own independent struggle that all other struggles are subordinate to due to its urgency. ‘Climate change’ is in fact produced, and production is done by human labour. There is no short cut to saving the climate: it demands that the working class be organised for struggle against the current mode of production, which is based on overproduction. Workers also need to be conscious about the production that they take part in and build a culture of refusing to do work that damages the environment and climate.
This cannot be done without a socialist programme or without going past the use of ‘civil disobedience’, which thus far has been a tactic of raising opinions. Socialists should not be lowering themselves to the level of liberalism in a question that is resolutely about socialism: the struggle against a system that demands constant growth of profits.
It should also be noted that the production of climate change has been moved out of the imperialist core and into the global south. Both because production and waste dumping have been exported, and also because rougher weather will (and has) hit the global south first. This means that the struggle needs to be primarily anti-imperialist, as all anti-capitalist struggle should be.
What is XR’s response to this? Putting forward arguments about stopping “mass immigration” caused by climate change, instead of actually exposing and opposing imperialism.
While many comrades will no doubt be tempted, in response to Ian Birchall’s sullen musings on Extinction Rebellion, to shrug their shoulders and conclude that it would have been better for Ian’s political development if Tony Cliff wasn’t the most remarkable person he had met in his life, I have a lot more sympathy.
I can quite see why Ian would be concerned about the issue of extinction, given the state of the opposition that only a few years ago was struggling against the Socialist Workers Party leadership. One group had an acrimonious split over a piece of furniture; Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century (RS21) is only notable for issuing a boring magazine that often reads like it has been written by ‘comrade Delta’ circa 2005 (albeit without the all-important testicles); while others, such as Ian, form ‘sects of one’ and remember the good old days when uncle Tony would poke his head out of the front door to take a sniff of the Hackney air and work out the next diabolical wheeze. This certainly looks like extinction to me and something we should all rebel against.
Perhaps this is why Ian is also concerned about tiny groups that can’t get their membership above 30. Uncharitable souls might suggest that this is a particularly egregious case of people in glass houses throwing stones but, again, this would be most unfair. After all, Ian probably doesn’t know he is in a glass house, dreaming as he does of those glory days when SWP membership cards would be distributed with all the loving care of confetti and membership/demonstration figures had all those all-important random noughts added on the end.
Your correspondent, Ian Birchall, makes plain his contempt for Eddie Ford’s article of the previous week (‘Fill the jails’, April 25). In turn, an entirely different set of thoughts fills my head.
Not only do I recoil in a multi-mix of disgust, fury and horror at Birchall’s sadly archetypical example of pedantic nit-picking: I consider comrade Eddie to have gone some good way along the pathway of criticising both the arrival on the scene and activities themselves of Extinction Rebellion. That’s to say, doing so in an open-eyed, clear-cut, but sensibly constructive, manner.
At least as I read it, the comrade not only pointed to the welcome questioning and “courageous” challenging of capitalist state narratives by XR, but more importantly placed overriding emphasis on the almost total absence of any political “strategy and programme” on their part - what otherwise might be called a far higher-grade wokefulness in harness with dramatically wider horizons.
All of that is unarguably valid - that is, if XR have any expectations whatsoever of making an impact or generating real change either for humankind or the condition of our planet Earth. Somewhat ironically, where they see a glaring connection between “eco-destruction” and functions/habits of lifestyle, tragically they fail to recognise the innate and immutable relationship of consumer capitalism with complete disaster. By which I mean disaster in terms of basic human dignity, as well as even more spiritual aspects of things - quite simply put: not only of practicalities, but also of higher values, such as beauty, soulfulness, aesthetics!
As far as I’m aware, comrade Eddie’s article lies at the stronger and distinctly more biting end of responses from the UK’s Marxist/communist organisations. Quite possibly, the most significant factor lying behind this situation is that current-times Marxism feels itself very reluctant to ‘overly’ criticise, where its own performance is so weak and ineffective - and, as a result, all but an irrelevance. It’s in order to avoid facing up to those gross but undeniable deficiencies that Marxism hides behind its oblique, softly-softly approach to criticising what are - in all truth and any honest analysis - these attempts by children messing about in a playground sandpit. The ideological basis for the beliefs, processes and activities of Extinction Rebellion is equivalent to nothing much more than childish (or certainly undeveloped and unsophisticated) dreaming of a ‘nicer and safer world’; where (in harsh but crystal-clear distinction) neither the innate class structure of capitalist society nor the direct consequences that flow from that reality get a mention.
That class structure, of course, is the main cog wheel within our engine room of ruthless, vicious, exploitative, oppressive, ‘consumer’ capitalist way of life - and thereby its immutably destructive relationship to the natural world. Surely, the absence of any solid awareness of these various interlocked factors justifies a description of XR as constituting little more than children messing around in their playground sandpit, within their charming but infantile ‘dream world’?
I note that Dave Douglass (Letters, May 2) saw fit not to bother to answer what I asked: when was Sinn Feign ever a socialist organisation (April 25)? Understandable when he is presently engaged in an ongoing debate with others on capitalist constitutional niceties, but baffling when he still repeats his sympathy for a 32-county “socialist” republic, yet declines to offer a view on what sort of socialism this would entail.
The Irish Republican Socialist Party does present a clear definition: “Socialism means the ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange collectively by the entire working class, with an end to wage labour, an end to production for profit and its replacement by a system of production based on human need.”
It shares, along with the Labour Party’s clause four, the idea of the continued existence of “exchange”. However, to talk of the collective ownership of the means of exchange by the entire working class is a contradiction in terms. Where there is collective ownership, there can be no exchange, since exchange can only take place between separate owners: ie, where there is private ownership (either individual, sectional, corporate or by the state), no collective ownership exists. In a socialist society goods are distributed, not exchanged. The IRSP’s concept of socialism remains one of the state running capitalism, accompanied by the usual gamut of palliatives.
The removal of ‘the border’ will not remove one social ill from which the working class suffers and so it is not a problem which concerns the working class. To set up new governments will not help workers, north or south, in any meaningful manner. Dave, you seem to identify with the nation-state - the political creature of that system whose effects you frequently vilify: capitalism. Nationalism is near the top of the list of political illusions used to blinker capitalism’s victims.
Socialist Party of Great Britain
It didn't happen
Jim Creegan in his excellent and thought-provoking article juxtaposes the sainted Rosa Luxemburg’s red-in-tooth-claw revolutionism against the equally-sainted (in some circles) Karl Kautsky’s reformism (‘Steady rightward trajectory’, May 2).
We need to step back and take a view of the condition of the European working classes in the early part of the 20th century prior to the cataclysm of the great war. In the United Kingdom the workers had never previously had it so good as they did in the Edwardian era. There was mass employment alongside rising wages. Working hours were shortened, giving genuine leisure time with plenty of opportunity to enjoy it - the bicycle to take you out of the city, the cheap excursion train to take you to the seaside, football and cricket matches to attend, the music hall and, as ever, the public houses, where men could fritter away their hard-won wages to the chagrin of their wives.
This material improvement of the working class didn’t just happen - it was won by organised labour in the trade union movement. In the Edwardian era that movement gained a political, parliamentary wing in the Independent Labour Party. For the United Kingdom’s proletariat there was a ballot-box means of achieving socialism ...
It didn’t happen - and it didn’t happen for Karl Kautsky’s Social Democratic Party - but I think he can be forgiven for thinking that it might have ...
Stan and Ollie
Call me ‘shocked’, ‘gobsmacked’ or even ‘surprised’ to read the report of the CPGB aggregate on April 27 and the resolution on the Labour leadership (‘Critical, not unconditional’, May 2). As reported, the main item was criticism of Jeremy Corbyn. Nobody trusted him because he is a moderate socialist - too little for real socialists and too much for the ruling class.
Corbyn was presented as a compromiser and appeaser. The ruling class still feared him, but they would only support his elevation to the top job as the crown’s chief executive if the situation became dire - with street protests, a major downturn in the world economy or a crash triggered by a no-deal Brexit.
Speaker after speaker lined up to say the same - Jack Conrad, Marilyn Sterne, Carla Roberts, Bob Williams, Peter Manson, Mike Macnair, Mick Hurst, Farzad Kamangar, Stan Keable, William Sarsfield, Vernon Price, Phil Kent. Comrade Hurst uttered a note of dissent, because he did not want to “defend Corbyn against the right” and wondered about the CPGB position on the EU elections.
The mindset of the CPGB aggregate focused on matters largely within the Labour Party over anti-Semitism and party democracy. Nobody thought the battle over Brexit was relevant. The resolution ignored it. Yet the battle over Brexit posed a threat to the unity of the working class and the Labour Party.
The policy of the working class movement towards the EU is absolutely central to any serious discussion about the current Labour leadership. What is the political line and tactics of the Labour leadership? Will this help elevate Corbyn to power or bring about his overthrow?
The CPGB aggregate did not discuss the Labour leadership’s strategy and tactics on Europe. Nobody argued Corbyn’s tactics were mistaken or whether it was creating great danger for the working class and the Labour Party. Criticism of Labour tactics would require the CPGB to argue for alternative tactics and for Labour Party Marxists to get stuck in by fighting for them.
The CPGB’s view of the fight over Brexit currently appears as ‘boycottist’. Don’t mention the war! A plague on all their houses! Say nothing in hope it goes away. Yet the future of the Labour Party may hang on how this pans out.
The report on the aggregate is presented under a classic picture of Stan and Ollie saying “shush” by mime. It reminded me of the two Zionists who stalked Jeremy Corbyn and the Palestinian ambassador - Corbyn claimed they did not understand English irony.
These two Zionists are not the only ones. Stan and Ollie saying “shush” at the start of a report on a debate about Corbyn and the Labour leadership, which says nothing about the major strategic and tactical problem of the EU, is more irony than England can take.
I welcome the discussion at the recent CPGB aggregate of the resolution, ‘Attitude towards the current Labour leadership (May 2).
In my opinion, following the next general election, a minority Corbyn-led Labour government will be short-lived. The right wing will break away to form a national government and Marxists should be preparing for this eventuality. The experience of the formation of the national government in 1931 has many lessons for us today. The most important comes from what Ramsay MacDonald said to Herbert Morrison (Lord Peter Mandelson’s grandfather) when they met on Westminster Bridge in 1931. He told him to stay in the Labour Party, “where he was needed”.
When the right wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party splits away from a Corbyn-led minority government, we must make sure that all present-day Herbert Morrisons are removed completely from the party. This is what Marxists need to prepare for. As point 10 of the CPGB aggregate resolution says, “Our task is to fully empower the Labour Party’s mass membership … whereby the Labour Party is thoroughly purged of the pro-capitalist right and the leadership won by real, not supposed Marxists.”
To achieve this, all Weekly Worker readers and subscribers should become active in the Labour Party, and after thoroughly reading each edition pass on their copy to their Labour Party contacts. Better still, all readers and subscribers should ask to be sent a weekly pack of Weekly Workers to sell locally.
When James P Cannon (founder of the American Socialist Workers Party) was a teenager, his father sold the weekly mass-circulation newspaper Appeal to Reason in their hometown in the American mid-west. In 2019, the Weekly Worker is the embryo of a modern-day Appeal to Reason. Unlike The Socialist, Socialist Appeal and Socialist Worker, it is not at the moment aimed at the general public, but at members of the left. It is our job to make sure that it becomes the go-to newspaper of activists in the Labour Party across Britain.
By doing so, we can transform the Labour Party into a permanent united front of the working class and equip it with solid Marxist principles and a tried and tested Marxist leadership.