It is utterly pointless my trying to have a rational debate with Tony Greenstein on the nature of ‘leave’ voters - each response from him is more slanderous than the last (Letters, May 2). My political positions on almost everything can be found in this paper since its inception, together with many other papers and journals, and among hundreds of thousands of people I have worked and struggled alongside over the last 57 years.
What I have done and who I am speaks for itself, I would have thought. I have been an anti-racialist and anti-fascist all of my life and confronted both racism and fascism in every aspect of my life. I have likewise been an Irish and Scottish republican socialist all my life, with no belief in the UK (or any other state, for that matter).
Tony has constructed a monolithic straw man of the Brexit voter. It confronts at every turn the bedrock of solidly socialist, labour and militant worker over generations in the Midlands, the north and the valleys, who also voted ‘leave’. They do not and I do not fit his profile, yet he persists in trying to force us into that guise.
Tony refused to see the vote of the majority of the northern working class as an instinctive class response to the European Union and, perhaps more importantly, to the political class and social elite who are trying to ram it down our throats. You know, the five most deprived regions of the EU are all in the north of England, while the most wealthy and privileged is London. The north has been constantly shat on by the political system trying to sell us the EU, while the south-east and London benefited from it. The majority of members of the Labour Party and the big majority of new Corbynista young members of the LP are predominantly London and south-east-based. They support the EU, while traditional LP members and, more numerously, voters in the north, Midlands and Wales do not. The north sees itself as working class, still acts as a social class - albeit on this issue in a refracted way. Tony sees none of that.
I do not believe there is any such thing as ‘independent British capitalism’ - nor has there been since the days of empire and the industrial revolution. Capitalism is capitalism. If Britain leaves the EU, the capitalism we shall have and be living under will be the same capitalism as if we are forced to stay in today. This or that minor control or operation may alter, but it will still be the same social system, with the same players and the same overall perspectives.
The EU is not a liberating force. Tony’s belief that it sets some base line protections really doesn’t match its operation in Greece and Spain, to name but two. Without endlessly repeating the same thing, it’s workers and workers’ independent organisations that fight for rights, terms and conditions - no saviours from the commissioners’ desk deliver, to coin a phrase from a little ditty I recall.
My point on Ireland once again: of course, Ulster workers voted to remain, for two reasons: the republican communities do not want to be geographically or politically further distanced from the rest of the island; and some workers in loyalist areas see the EU membership as personally favouring them and they enjoy the best of both worlds by this viewpoint. But I repeat: ‘Brexit’ is not the issue in Ulster: it’s not Britain’s membership of the EU which is the central issue, but British domination and occupation of the Six Counties. Britain leaving the EU wouldn’t make a bugger of difference to most Ulster folk if the UK would end its occupation, and that’s the real point. Many of the sincere republican forces in Ireland do not favour membership of the EU either, but that’s not the central issue.
I don’t know why on earth Tony is shocked by my comments on the nature of organising migrant workers - a role I played for years after Hatfield Main coal mine closed (it opened again a year after I left) as an organiser in the northern region for the Transport and General Workers Union. Food processing was my chief target and this industry is heavily dominated by EU migrant labour. Now I don’t know if Tony has ever been tasked with organising workers in today’s climate. Let me briefly say, there are reasons why some workers may join a union and others are unlikely to.
One of these is they may see themselves as being in short-term employment - either enforced or by choice. Many young European migrant workers are not intending to lay down roots or stay in one particular place - some are short-term contracts, some are agency staff, some are casual workers by choice.
This doesn’t apply to all migrant workers, or even all EU migrants: Polish long-distance lorry drivers are usually resident in Poland and are the most willing to join the union - sometimes before local workers. However, workers from non-EU countries, and the Indian sub-continent in particular, are likely to have made a long-term home here, identifying with an area for many generations, and have extended families both in the area and often in the plant or industry. Among such workers is often a tradition of union membership.
I’m not being derogatory or “chauvinist”, for god’s sake: I’m just telling you the impact of EU migration in many areas. It’s had the effect of mitigating for a variety of reasons against union membership and in part that is what ‘free movement’ is intended to do. I rarely carried less than 40 different language membership forms with me on a daily basis, and bringing those workers into the union was my endeavour for years, but the role of ‘free movement’ (for EU workers only, of course) is to break local and regional union identities and cultures, particularly where the vast majority of workers in a plant are brought in for the job and locals need not apply.
Of course, we have to try and overcome this, and in many cases I successfully did so - after years of difficult organising campaigns. I wasn’t talking about ‘non-white’ workers - where the hell did that come from? I’m talking about the EU, whose citizens tend to be white - it’s got nothing whatever to do with skin colour. But this is becoming typical of the casual way Tony just flings accusations of crude racialism about.
It is also the reason why I am concluding my contribution to this debate such as it is. Tony believes the vast mass of previously internationalist, socialist and militant workers in the north and elsewhere have become racists, led by fascists; I can’t dissuade him from that belief.
I don’t know any workers with a nostalgia for the empire - how old does he think they are? If there is any nostalgia, it’s for the days when Britain was a manufacturing-based economy and more than half the workforce was organised into powerful unions, who could halt government policy or bring it down. This has nothing whatever to do with ‘Great Britain’ in any chauvinist sense.
Workers will en masse vote for the Brexit Party because there is no other way of registering a vote for ‘leave’. It will be a one-off protest against the rest of the political establishment, and will have nothing to do with support for Farage or the Tory right. It has everything to do with Labour now being seen as a party of ‘remain’, and there being no left political alternative on offer. One would have thought that if Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party had taken up the initiative it would have given Brexit a run for its money, but that’s not on the cards, it seems. Brexit Labour MPs and party officials are not allowed to run as a faction in the forthcoming election and hence another alternative left Brexit door is closed off. Before Tony asks, I shall be putting a line through all candidates, with a suitable comment on the lot, as I did in the council elections - one of 40,000 such lines and comments, I am told.
Coming very briefly to Alan ‘impatience’ Johnstone (Letters, May 9), my letter on Easter commemorations and the republican movement had previously been written, which is why it contained no response to Alan. I missed the deadline for the April 25 edition, but, to be frank, I thought Alan’s question on definitions of socialism was rhetorical.
Those of us who believe in a communist future for humanity - a stateless, propertyless, equalitarian, non-hierarchical commonwealth, based upon ‘From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs’ - know that this can only work realistically and for any length of time on a worldwide scale. But I am not a person who thinks that, unless and until the workers of the world synchronise their watches and launch a simultaneous, worldwide revolution, all efforts short of that are doomed. We have to respond to the challenges and opportunities that are dealt our way in whatever circumstances.
I was talking of the Provisionals in the mid-70s, whose anti-imperialist struggles were announced as in support of a 32-county socialist republic, based upon a federated, four-historic-provinces society, with the public ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, with the separation of state and church, under the direction and control of the workers and small farmers, with full civil, social and religious rights for all (or words to the same effect).
I did then and still do consider those aims, in so far as they were totally embraced by the brave volunteers and especially the young members of Sinn Féin, to be sufficiently socialist to describe it as a republican socialist organisation fighting for socialism. That was then.
I consider the Irish Republican Socialist Party (who I do not speak for, by the way) to be likewise dedicated to the overthrow of Irish capitalism and British imperialism, and to the construction of a socialist republican Ireland to describe them as socialist too. I am aware and they are surely aware that such struggles and outcomes do not exist in a vacuum and are part of a world, revolutionary class struggle. And, yes, I do think anti-imperialist struggles led by the working class are part of the class war despite the immediate aim being fused with struggles for national liberation. I do not deem these to be simply ‘nationalist’, as opposed to internationalist, struggles.
David John Douglass
Just as bad
I agree with Paul Demarty that the media want to use the local election results to bounce Corbyn into supporting a second EU referendum (‘Lying about the elections’, May 9). As Paul outlines, the Tory-supporting media would then use Corbyn’s Brexit ‘betrayal’ to crush Labour in a subsequent general election.
However, I disagree with his analysis that both the Tory and Labour local election results were not equally bad. In 1995, in my neck of the woods, Labour won 21 out of the then 40 seats on Fenland district council, with the other 19 seats going to the Tories. In 2019, out of the now 39 seats, the Tories have 26 (down from 37); independents 10 (up from 2); the Lib Dems 2; and the Greens one.
The change in Labour’s fortunes from 21 seats in 1995 to none in 2019 shows how Brexit, together with the legacy of Blairism and Corbyn’s appeasement, has poisoned all forms of political discourse in Fenland. This is also clearly shown in the neighbouring constituency of Peterborough, when last week the Brexit Party held a pre-parliamentary by-election rally with Nigel Farage, attended by 2,000 supporters.
Whilst Brexit has produced a crisis within the political class, it has led to the scandals of homelessness, food banks and universal credit being relegated to the backburner. In the 2016 EU referendum, 72% of Fenlanders voted ‘leave’. Ironically, many of them in the local elections voted Lib Dem or Green - the latter defeating the only sitting Labour councillor in Fenland.
Interestingly, the new Tory-controlled Wisbech council has just chosen as the new deputy mayor a multi-lingual councillor, who arrived 15 years ago from Latvia.
Only the SPGB
John Smithee wistfully talks of transforming the Labour Party into a “permanent united front of the working class” and equipping it with “solid Marxist principles and a tried and tested Marxist leadership” (Letters, May 9). Sorry, John, but there is not a snowball’s chance of that happening.
I don’t know what he means by “solid Marxist principles”, but, the way I look at it, the essential point of Marxism is the need for the working class to consciously unite and overthrow capitalism from the bottom up (we don’t need a “Marxist leadership”). By ‘capitalism’ Marx very clearly meant the system of wage labour - the mechanism and very signifier of working class exploitation. Hence his exhortation to trade unionists that - instead of the conservative motto, ‘A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work!’ - they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword, ‘Abolition of the wages system!’ Genuine socialism - for Marx and modern-day ‘Marxists’ - has to be a wageless, classless, moneyless and stateless society. in which we produce wealth solely for need and not for market exchange.
Never has the Labour Party shown the slightest interest in pursuing this goal, nor will it ever. How difficult is it to understand that the Labour Party is, has always been and will always be a political organisation completely committed to the retention of the wages system - capitalism? A few supposed ‘Marxists’ in or around the Labour Party may pay lip service to the Marxian goal, but by perpetually putting it on the back boiler, consigning it to some distant, hazy future, where it can be effectively forgotten, they ensure the perpetual continuation of capitalism in the demonstrably false and naive belief that it can somehow be administered “for the many, not the few” (to quote Labour’s slogan).
But it can’t. Capitalism is like a machine engineered to produce a particular outcome - namely, to advance the interests of capital against the interests of wage labour. It matters little how well intentioned you may be (and no-one is doubting Corbyn’s good intentions) - as long as you strive to take over the administration of the wages system, you will inevitably find yourself having to promote the interests of the few against the interests of the many. Political disenchantment is built into the very nature of the reformist project; it is what underlies the constant merry-go-round of Labour governments, followed by Tory governments, and back again.
Some people here will not thank me for pointing this out, but there is only one political party that unequivocally stands for the abolition of the wages system and has done so ever since its formation in 1904 - the Socialist Party of Great Britain. It can be ignored as irrelevant because of its small size, but here we face a catch 22 situation - that, by continuing to ignore it, you continue to ensure that the Marxist goal of the abolition of the wages system is sidelined and forgotten about.
It is high time Marxists grasped the nettle and took their principles seriously by joining the only political party that is actually intent upon pursuing that goal.
Labour Against the Witchhunt was pleased to receive the following encouraging solidarity letter from down under, showing the worldwide reach of both the left breakthrough represented by the unprecedented election of a leftwing leader of the Labour Party, and the rightwing shenanigans attempting to put the socialist genie back in the bottle:
“I am an Australian supporter of Corbyn’s transformative project, who has been appalled and angered by the smear campaign against him and his supporters in the UK Labour Party. I’m highly supportive of LAW’s principled and courageous work.
“I recently lodged a complaint with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation over its radio coverage of ‘Labour’s anti-Semitism crisis’. ABC Radio broadcast four segments on this subject, in which the main speakers were, respectively, Margaret Hodge, Tony Blair, Blair’s former principal private secretary, John McTernan, and a BBC “journalist”, who asserted that Corbyn had made “decades of statements” (by implication, anti-Semitic statements). Vital and readily available information which contradicted the ‘widespread anti-Semitism in Labour’ narrative was omitted.
“The ABC’s internal complaints unit dismissed my complaint, insisting that the corporation’s coverage had been perfectly impartial! I suspect that the ABC sourced most of its coverage from the BBC.”
Your solidarity is most welcome, comrade. Our struggle is your struggle.
Jim Creegan’s intervention in the ‘Kautsky debate’ would have been a lot more productive (and even perhaps persuasive) if he had engaged directly with the arguments on this issue made by Lars T Lih, by Ben Lewis, and by myself, which have previously been published in this paper (or, for that matter, my 2008 book Revolutionary strategy or my introduction to Ben and Maciej Zurowski’s 2013 translation, Karl Kautsky on colonialism).
Instead, he merely reproduces the orthodoxies he learned in his youth and supports them by a few references to Carl Schorske’s 1955 cold war product, German social democracy. Schorske was chief of political intelligence for western Europe in the Office of Strategic Services, precursor to the CIA, in World War II. His narrative was the part of orthodoxy the US state was promoting in order to insist that the only true options were Stalinism, the coalitionist right wing of social democracy or a doomed romantic leftism (also found in Peter Nettl’s work).
Comrade Creegan also makes use of Eurocommunist Massimo Salvadori’s 1976 biography of Kautsky, but the result is rather a yawn, precisely because it merely repeats an old orthodoxy without engaging with the critics of this orthodoxy. It involves a good deal of simple falsification of the history of Bolshevism.
Ben Lewis will be writing a rejoinder to Creegan and intervening in the ‘Kautsky debate’ more generally in the near future. No doubt it will contain more of interest about what the other participants wrote as well.
I was very disappointed by the three responses to my letter about Extinction Rebellion (May 9). I promise you that if I’d been invited to write a reply under a pseudonym I could have put the Weekly Worker position rather more lucidly than any of your correspondents.
The most coherent reply comes from Emma Silva. Here at least there are some political arguments. But what struck me most about Ms Silva’s letter was the quite incredible smugness. There is no need to learn from experience, because Ms Silva already has all the answers. So we are told XR is “a movement of the liberal middle class”. Now I am in poor health and was unable to attend the demonstrations, but I saw a great many photographs and videos, and I must confess I am quite unable to determine the class position of those taking part. Perhaps Ms Silva has made a careful analysis of the relation of those demonstrating to the means of production. I suspect, however, that she is using the term “middle class” as so many self-professed Marxists do - to mean something they don’t like or disagree with.
XR, we’re told has “no regard for the police role under capitalism”. Yes, Emma, I’ve read State and revolution too. But that doesn’t resolve the relation of theory to tactics. Would it have been better if XR members had carried revolvers and killed the police officers trying to arrest them? Actually their tactics seem to have worked reasonably well in tying up and confusing the police. And Roger Hallam’s recent acquittal on a charge of criminal damage suggests that their tactics can be effective.
Ms Silva tells us: “There is no short cut to saving the climate: it demands that the working class be organised for struggle.” I agree, and have said more or less the same many times. But proclaiming this achieves nothing, and I see no sign of the CPGB or anyone else actually organising anything. Maybe XR will fail, but at least there will be lessons to be learned for the next phase of struggle. But the empty recital of doctrine is no more meaningful than a Jehovah’s Witness reciting the Bible.
There is rather less to be said about Lawrence Parker, since he makes no political arguments, but contents himself with some rather cheap jokes directed at myself. He seems to find the idea of “extinction” a bit of a giggle. I should think very carefully before involving myself with a political organisation that finds hundreds of millions of human deaths a subject for humour.
It is, of course, true that the Socialist Workers Party lied about its membership figures, and I freely acknowledge that I and others should have challenged this earlier. But it is also true that the SWP initiated the Anti-Nazi League and Stop the War. Now doubtless Parker will find some doctrinal point to justify sitting on his backside rather than involving himself in those movements. But they mobilised hundreds of thousands of people and achieved some results (the Nazis were set back for a generation; if the war on Iraq was not stopped, further invasions were made less likely).
As for Bruno Kretzschmar, as ever with his garbled tirades, I didn’t understand a blind word (can a structure be a cogwheel?).
I am not an uncritical admirer of XR. In fact I remain a pessimist - I think the destruction of human civilisation is considerably more likely than a proletarian revolution led by the CPGB. But if there is any hope, it will come from those willing to take to the streets, rather than those who prefer to sit in a corner quoting the Bible (sorry, works of Lenin).
Yassamine Mather says, referring to a possible war between the US and Iran: “The Stop the War Coalition, weakened by contradictory positions on Syria and eager to ensure no damage is done to Corbyn, is unlikely to take any serious initiatives. That does not augur well” (‘Threat of war is real’, May 9).
This is an extraordinary claim and it is obvious that STWC would mobilise actively against any attack on Iran by US and/or Israel. Chris Nineham, a Stop the War national officer, has an article on this issue on the Counterfire blog.
There are different views on the complex Syrian civil war, but I have never heard anyone at an STWC AGM or national steering committee meeting in the last three or four years express any support for the Assad dictatorship. The STWC position of opposing all foreign intervention - either from US, UK or French imperialism, or by Russia or Iran - has been agreed unanimously at a series of national meetings. The position argues that Syrian people only should determine the future of the country.
Birmingham STWC (personal capacity)
There was a predictable backlash to Amanda Maclean’s excellent work (‘Decoupled from reality’, April 18). What trans activist apologists don’t realise is there are different types of trans and they )don’t all agree. There are old-fashioned trans sexual, mostly minding their own business, usually accepted among women (with or without a gender recognition certificate or surgery) and accepting the need for women’s spaces. Many of these now reject the label ‘trans’ and the claim that transwomen are women (see Miranda Yardley and supporting feminists). There are cross-dressers, transvestites, gay and straight, and there is no doubt that they are men.
There are and have always been feminine men, masculine women and androgynous people - they should not be harassed or abused. (Intersex is a different phenomenon - most also reject the ‘trans’ label). But there are also some seriously thinking, disordered people with the sexual orientation, autogynephilia - men who want to displace women and insist they are the real women. They have no dysphoria, are happy with their bodies, but are in love with and sexually aroused by the idea of themselves as a woman. If we let them into women’s spaces they are disruptive and offensive, and where they go other men follow, harassing and abusing women; refusing debate, reinforcing stereotypes, until young lesbians and non-gender-conforming children think they too are trans.
They should not be abused (mostly by homophobic men), but they themselves should not abuse either. Live how you want, dress how you want, love who you want - everyone should be free to live as they wish. But women need safe spaces from all men, because we don’t know which ones are going to hurt us. This is the law and we are defending it. There’s no problem in trans people having refuge from violence (committed by men, by the way). Have your own spaces, raise money like we had to - good luck - and let’s unite on issues that affect us all. But women’s spaces for safety or decency are not up for grabs.