Learning curve

Andrew Northall is right to recognise the case for a ratification referendum is “virtually unanswerable” (Letters, May 30). Indeed many have ignored it because nobody has been able to refute it.

However despite making many good points, Andrew has missed the fundamental one. A ratification referendum is to ratify the government’s proposed plan to leave the European Union (whatever it is and this includes no deal/World Trade Organisation rules). It is not, as Andrew suggests, a vote between leaving with a deal or leaving with no deal: ie, voting between two different kinds of Tory (May or Farage) policies.

Of course, he is right that the idea that the people - including its working class majority - should trust parliament to have the final say is ludicrous. As a ‘remain’ democrat I continue to say it is best to remain in the EU, but not at the expense of a weakened, divided and embittered working class. Hence I think it is in the interests of working class unity that the 2016 result is carried out - but not in the Tory way, which I oppose. A ratification referendum would enable working class voters to decide on any deal.

Andrew seems like a ‘leave’ democrat - who supports leaving, but believes the working class should have the final say. If so then ‘remain’ democrats and ‘leave’ democrats have a point of unity. The process is like a champion boxer, who has only one challenger at a time. If he/she is knocked out, like May, then bring on the next. One fight on one occasion, not three or four boxers in the ring at the same time.

The model is trade unions negotiating a deal and if members support it then it is done. But if it is rejected the status quo applies - and the attempt to get a new deal (including, of course, with new negotiators if the original ones have failed. In this case the way to new negotiations is a new Tory leader and a general election, so people can choose their chief negotiator and programme (give Corbyn a go at it).

The same applies if no deal/WTO is the government’s plan. People should vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to that. The trade union approach is simple - we deal with what’s in front of us, not multiple hypotheticals. If the next real proposal is defeated then the status quo is we are still in the EU in a kind of no man’s land. We remain in the departure lounge - not on the plane, because the passengers have not agreed the price of the ticket.

The ultra-remainers want a second referendum to vote 52%-48% the other way. These idiots think that will end it. It won’t. But Lib Dems, and their Green hangers-on, don’t care a jot if we have an embittered and divided working class, which they hate and fear in equal measure.

Many leavers are terrified we might be stuck in the departure lounge until JC has a go. They want all this horrible worry to stop because out means out! If being stuck in ‘departure’ is not desirable in itself, I can see many positive advantages - not least in political education. Never has the country been exposed to, or forced to watch, the abject failures of the political class and our constitution. I am more than happy for the political learning curve to continue rising.

Steve Freeman

Next stage

Following the results of the EU elections, we have the next stage of the war on Corbyn. All hands on deck to tell the world that Corbyn needs to come off the fence, with a particular barrage coming from The Guardian and The Observer. The latter includes a leading article from David Blunkett telling Corbyn to sack all his aides - given his insights and experience gained at The Sun and the Daily Mail, Blunkett is obviously a man to be listened to.

The aim, apart from ridding the Labour Party of socialists (sorry - anti-Semites) is to give full-throated backing to the ‘remain’ or ‘Peoples’ Vote’ campaign. Steve Freeman writes of Corbyn’s “small fort” and he and his allies are, of course, trying to maintain a class position (Letters, May 30). For all their many weaknesses, this is a principled position to take. They quite rightly want to fight for all working people, whichever way they voted in the referendum.

The working class is getting screwed in the EU and it will continue to be screwed, whether in or out, but, whatever the eventual outcome, Corbyn and his allies want to do what they can - on global warming, austerity, health, education and so on. As has been pointed out many times in these pages, the real danger for the ruling class is not so much that he might have some success, but that, even with failures, the working class might be encouraged to start mass struggles again.

The Labour right - along with the press, BBC, Channel 4, etc - will have none of that. He must get off the fence and support a second referendum: ie, he must more or less guarantee Labour’s failure, under his leadership, at the next election. Once again the right are showing that they would rather have Boris Johnson as prime minister, any time, than Jeremy Corbyn. After his failure in a general election there would be another attempt to get rid of him, with more hope of success.

And so the Labour Party could dwindle away into oblivion just like the social democrats in France, Germany, Italy, Spain … These people are short on insight and intelligence, if not on spite and low cunning.

The arguments against another referendum are well rehearsed: the government will choose the question or questions; the press will ramp up racism again; whatever the outcome, the cries of betrayal will drown out any real politics. And a few more years will be bought with no action on global warming or any other problem - at least until something really, really nasty happens.

A little diversion, but, I note the welcome that Labour Against the Witchhunt has given to the expulsion of Alastair Campbell. But I must disagree, though I think he should be hung, drawn and quartered for his many crimes (eg, being one of Blair’s right-hand men). The Labour press team, I note from Skwawkbox, have said: “To be absolutely clear, the way Labour Party members vote is a private matter. But publicly declaring or encouraging support for another candidate or party is against the rules and is incompatible with party membership.”

It has been pointed out that Campbell would have been well aware of that. Well, yes, of course, he was. So we must assume that this was a self-directed provocation - another stick to beat Corbyn with - and as such it seems to have been quite successful. If the ‘I am Spartacus’ remainers leave Labour, as well as or instead of leavers, then it is still ‘job done’!

Jim Cook

Big mister

I was thrown into instant rage at reading the ignorant, elitist utterances of Paul Mason - the Johnny Come Lately spokesperson for liberal Labour and the establishment. He has publicly condemned Corbyn for listening to former miners rather than courting those nice Liberal Democrat voters.

The self-appointed spokesperson for no-one in particular is frequently wheeled out by the establishment media to pontificate on a wide range of labour movement and working class events and issues, despite his thoroughly middle class and liberal orientation. He says Labour should ignore the traditional voters in the coalfields and concentrate their attention on “anti-Brexit Liberal Democrat and Green voters” (The Journal June 1).

The man he despises most, and principal target of his venom, is Ian Lavery, together with former miners who now represent coalfield constituencies. Lavery is, of course, chairman of the Labour Party and former president of the National Union of Mineworkers, and a man on the far left of the party. Mason has campaigned to have Ian fired from his position. This fury is prompted by the MPs whose constituencies are solidly Labour and voted by a wide margin to leave the EU and who refuse to ignore their views and fall in with the second-referendum/‘remain’ current, which dominates the party. Ian and the others, to their credit, have refused to endorse any call for a second referendum.

According to the Huffington Post, Mason has said that Labour should “launch a ‘stop Brexit’ tour of Britain”. He then went on to slander Brexit voters: “And if people who hate blacks, hate women, hate gays don’t want to come to them - don’t bother.” It is quite clear he is suggesting that ‘leave’ voters hate blacks, women and gays. Indeed, since this is a suggested Labour Party tour, he is implying these are Labour voters too. This is a serious slander. He goes on: “Don’t worry about it. They can go off and do their own thing. We need Labour to bring in the Greens, the Lib Dems and millions who didn’t vote.”

Where it gets more precisely personal and disgusting is as follows: “I’m done with people saying, ‘We can’t lose the working class’. A Lithuanian nurse is working class, an Afghan taxi driver is working class. An ex-miner sitting in a pub calling migrants ‘cockroaches’ has not only no added human capital above the people I just mentioned, but is also not the person we are interested in.”

So, the liberal veil is swept away and we see at once how Mason and doubtless others of his ilk characterise us. So where is this ex-miner saying vile things? Sitting in what pub? He’s in Mason’s twisted imagination, that’s all. Ian Lavery at once condemned the remarks as deeply offensive and demanded he apologise to coal communities across the UK.

We should go further and make a point of confronting this excuse for a human being every time he shows up to play the big mister on political platforms. It is hard to describe how disgusted I and many former miners feel at this attack - reminiscent of the kind of bile Churchill and Lady Astor used to throw at us.

I sincerely hope that whoever is in the chair of this year’s Durham Gala calls upon Corbyn and other invited Labour big wigs to disassociate themselves from these remarks and, while we’re at it, how come Mason hasn’t been suspended?

David John Douglass
South Shields

False claims

At the risk of going on, I just wanted to mention a couple of things in relation to Tina Werkmann’s letter about me in the Weekly Worker (May 23). She makes a few false claims in seeking to justify her ridiculous expulsion of me from Labour Against the Witchhunt.

She says I often identify as a member of LAW. That is untrue. On two occasions I have told readers of my motions to LAW, for the meetings in December and February. Out of the 30 updates to my change.org petition at tinyurl.com/israelihra I’ve sent out, I have mentioned LAW in a handful. And I have never identified myself as a LAW member, though I did praise them when they came out in support of me over my expulsion from the GMB union.

Tina claims I urged people to read Ian Fantom’s article because of Kollerstrom’s reference. This is bollocks. Ian’s article is long - very long - it is about bogus anti-Semitic witch-hunts in the Labour Party and it’s also about Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism. Ian mentions Kollerstrom in passing. Furthermore I myself warned folk before they read Ian’s piece that there was a “toxic” reference to Kollerstrom. So what Tina seeks to defend is her purging of me though ‘guilt by association’. This is puritanical, dangerous ground.

She goes on to claim that LAW’s Tony Greenstein tried to persuade me to take down the article. But there was no persuasion - only threats. And then Tina claims I put the whole exchange online for idiotic reasons. But that exchange Tony had already copied to many, many people (this was no private conversation - Tony saw to that) - and these people were in Google groups to whom I had no access. In terms of defending myself from the outrageous slanders Tony was putting on me, I decided to put the exchange online, so people could read my side of the story (they were only hearing Tony’s). And I definitely put no private email addresses online. I went to great care to remove these before publishing. Tina is simply making stuff up. Readers can check for themselves at www.kidsnotsuits.com/tony-greenstein-and-john-porter-the-spat.

And then Tina complains about my putting a recording of my show trial online. But this was a quasi-judicial event, on bogus charges. I have every right to make such proceedings public - how else would people understand my defence? People trust LAW to defend freedom of speech, so when they expel somebody the public might think they had good cause. But when but 5% of the membership vote to expel a member in a meeting where email voting has been disallowed and wild allegations made (such as that I want to drive all Jews into the sea), what else can I do? Tina’s kangaroo court left me with little alternative.

So this was a trial. Trials deserve to be held in public - trials over false claims that undermine freedom of speech even more so. LAW didn’t like my publishing the trial proceedings, but LAW undermined my freedom of speech. I will always publish the audio of a bogus trial about me if I can, no matter what the organisers say. LAW had no right to do what they did to me: it was completely unconstitutional. My rights in a quasi-judicial setting are paramount ... If I am on trial, especially over support for holocaust denial (an extremely serious charge), I have the right to publish the statements being made about me. Otherwise there is no justice, no opportunity for people to make up their own minds. What is important here is for those who were unable to get to the meeting to hear what was being done to me.

Several people wrote into LAW in my defence before the hearing and the steering group chose not to disclose those emails. LAW implies support for democracy, but is only democratic when it suits the steering group. As LAW seems to think it can make its own laws, it becomes a caricature of the struggle for democracy and free speech, and even on occasions just an ego trip for Jackie Walker, Tony Greenstein and sundry celebrity campaigners. They are a salve to the conscious of middle class armchair socialists that posture and do nothing, becoming no more than paper tigers. There is a need for organisations like LAW (because Liberty has failed us), but now LAW has failed us too.

At the end of her letter Tina claims I made libellous and false accusations against Greenstein, but they are neither false nor libellous. Even today I received more complaints from other people he has shat upon.

So, please, Tina, hold off from doing Mossad’s dirty work for them. We have a big enough battle ahead to get Corbyn as prime minister imposing sanctions on Israel to stop its monstrous apartheid. Let’s just try and work on that, and maybe LAW could give LAZIR (Labour Against Zionist Islamophobic Racism) a bit of support, eh? We are meant to be on the same side, after all.

Pete Gregson

That phrase again

Jim Cook is quite right: gender is a spectrum and people should not “make a big song and dance” about the existence of transgender, intersex and non-binary people (Letters May 30). The problem is that Amanda Maclean, Jim Cook do, as does Rex Dunn in his essay, ‘Philosophy, Marxism and gender ideology’ (Weekly Worker May 30).

All, in their various ways, believe that gender should somehow be policed. For Amanda it is the creation of an enforced third gender; for Jim it is his magic eye that can accurately “spot a woman or a man in the street” (how would he know for sure?); while for Rex it is conflation of neoliberalism, poststructuralism and “gender ideology”.

And there’s that phrase again. “Gender ideology” is not used by any group advocating the rights of LGBT+ people - rather it’s a useful discursive device for far-right and seemingly left anti-trans critics. As previously pointed out, it is “straw doll” argument. By separating it from any actual argument, its definition is in the hand of the critic, who can then easily refute it. Also, it feeds into the anti-intellectualism common to populism of all forms and detaches the struggle for transgender rights from any actual living and breathing trans people.

If Amanda Maclean’s and Rex Dunn’s dispute is with queer theory, then they should say so. Indeed, I would probably agree with many of their criticisms, particularly queer theory’s lack of materialism. The trouble with such a move is that it would fundamentally undermine their arguments. Central to queer theory is its critique of dangers in second-wave feminism to reinforce gender norms (this argument being a case in point); and the attempt to derail gay liberation through the commodification of LGBT lives and the endeavour to make LGBT conform to mainstream values - as sort of gay-embourgeoisement. Queer theory is, therefore, critical, not supportive, of neoliberalism.

Ironically Rex comes out as the defender of the capitalist status quo. Alarmed at the apparent growth of young people identifying as LGBT, and the possibility of this becoming “the norm”, Rex rants that the “present situation would be reversed: procreation and everything that goes with it - desire, sex, love, family and having children …” The assumption being that LGBT people can’t desire, can’t have real sex, don’t love, don’t have families and are unable to have children.

While we must guard against presenting socialism as a panacea, I agree with Rex that the overthrow of capitalism is essential for full sexual and gender liberation. We should seek to maximise our freedoms as far as possible; it is only through rattling our bars that we can identify our imprisonment and engender the rage necessary to break them down.

Richard Farnos
South London

Out of context

Steven Johnston writes the following in his letter (May 23): “Creating safe spaces for women, or indeed anyone, under capitalism, is like getting drunk to forget your problems. Unfortunately when you sober up they are still there. Why not join the readers and writers of the Weekly Worker to create a safe place for all members of the working class?”

While I do not agree with Nicola Daniels’ opinions on trans women, I do think that Steven takes safe spaces (or self-organising of marginalised groups in general) out of their context. The purpose is not to just temporarily escape the issues of capitalism and patriarchy, but to strengthen women through collective experiences in spaces that are often dominated by men. Most important of all, a safe space is where the personal can be allowed to become political. In other words, a space free from male sexual violence and a place to organise against male sexual violence. This comes in the form of everything from women’s shelters and feminist self-defence classes to just hang-outs.

Having women’s separatist activities by itself won’t “stop women dying at work”, of course, but what it can do in the context of workplace struggle is strengthen the position of women in the workers’ movement (and in its parties and trade unions). This sort of organising will bring forth concerns, struggles and perspectives that are otherwise lost in a movement where men have always taken up the most space at the cost of women, both historically and currently. This is the core of the issue with formulating the solution as merely wanting to create a “safe place for all members of the working class”.

Emma Silva

Mere biology

Perhaps, some readers might wonder why we need to talk about Aristotle’s concept of essence at all, as Rex Dunn did with regard to Karl Marx or trans women (‘Philosophy, Marxism and gender ideology’, May 30).

To talk of essences is not to deny change and difference. It is simply to differentiate between significant change in a being and superficial claims. Aristotle is in fact a much more interesting philosopher of language than Derrida or Wittgenstein, particularly in his Metaphysics (chapter Z).

If we are going to name something, shouldn’t it be about something real and substantial rather than fling words around because we don’t want to discriminate? The actuality may matter a great deal. For example, can we declare that the Britain that emerged from Labour’s 1945 election victory was a socialist society, because it possessed aspects such as some nationalisation and the NHS? For certain people this may be quite enough to define the essence of that society. But others would insist that the substance was different - a definition would have to consider profits, the empire and lack of workers’ control.

As Rex Dunn points out, having some characteristics (certain ‘atoms’ of a whole) would not be enough. It’s the whole that matters - the irreducible being of the thing in question that means we can refer to it with an essential name. Darwin studied the change in essences: how, for example, a common ancestor provided an order of primates (hominini), which include chimps, bonobos and humans. Of course, humans went on to become a very different kind of primate. Those who work on the social dialectic must still be very careful about declaring that at some moment we have reached ‘real communism’ and you better believe it. We’ve had trouble with that one before.

Of course, there are fast-track utopians who say that ‘text’ and free-floating words are sufficient. We can declare something to be such and it is. A human being born, for example, male can declare themselves female, wear dresses and it makes no real difference, except to the person’s morale. Let us tick off the characteristics of such a being and, however short we come, arrive at some definition of one sort of person. Even Aristotle thinks that ‘man’ and the specific ‘white man’ are not the same. Nevertheless, women athletes, like Sharron Davies and Kelly Holmes, have argued that a real difference is made in the field of sports.

Now if we want unisex sport (or uncommercial games), there’s no need to worry about this, but if there is still some social reason for us to make the divide, we might find ways of determining the difference. The modern Olympics only allowed women competitors from 1900 onwards and at first only in a few sports.

Sharron Davies has argued that the combination of physical powers plus training plus social experience (of middle class masculinity and men’s sports) makes for a substantial difference, which amounts to a privilege. Are we then like the anti-abortionist who denies there’s any distinction between conceiving and bearing a child? After all, he doesn’t want to discriminate over ‘mere’ biology either.

If, as has happened, a male cyclist decides at 28 to self-declare female and then goes on to dominate women’s cycling events, there might be some wariness about where the definition is made. Check out photos of the taller and heavier cyclist, Rachel McKinnon, or Australian-rules footballer Hannah Mouncey. To deny such trans athletes the reinforcement of their advantage (physical and social), which isn’t enjoyed by even the most outstanding women, is not discrimination, but care about extending the privilege of a particular rank and lifestyle. Women’s cycling might in effect be abolished altogether, along with sponsorship of individual athletes and encouragement of women’s sport.

Marxists believe there are realities to naming, not just syllables.

Mike Belbin

Bolshevik rigging

In 1918, the Bolsheviks carried out a series of anti-soviet coups. These actions were never considered by either Rosa Luxemburg or the renegade Kautsky.

In the past Mike Macnair has referenced Alexander Rabinowitch’s remarks about the Bolshevik rigging of federal soviet elections in 1918 and in a previous letter I brought up the actions of local Bolshevik thugs, when they disbanded soviets that didn’t return Bolshevik majorities. I still condemn the latter, even in emergency situations, but I’m more sympathetic to the former. To twist the nationalist words of one Vladimir Putin, there were both “negative and positive consequences” associated with these events.

Simply put, while this paper has opposed bonus-adjusted proportional representation, I now support one form of it or another, despite its Italian fascist origins. The less favourable alternative for preserving hard-fought progressive gains is to totally gut proportionality like Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez did in 2010. While no party that wins a mere plurality of votes should have two-thirds of any legislature (the ‘Acerbo Law’), a party that wins a mere plurality of votes should be entitled to an automatic majority. Moreover, a party that wins 50%+ of the votes should have the ‘Acerbo bonus’ - enough to amend the constitution on a whim. Greece’s bonus seats are not enough.

Jacob Richter

Polish ban

The authoritarian Law and Justice (PiS) regime in Poland wants to ban communist ideology in our country and send people to jail for ‘wrong’ views. This could be the end of democratic liberties and freedom of speech. We cannot sit idly by.

The anti-democratic PiS regime is going to adopt a law penalising the propagation of communist ideology. A person publicly presenting communist views will serve three years in jail. While only “propaganda for a totalitarian state system” has been penalised so far, hereafter the communist ideology itself will be targeted.

This is another assault on democratic freedoms in our country. After the removal of the names of the streets and monuments connected with the left, last year there was a mass campaign of repression against communists. This included the trial of members of the Communist Party of Poland (who were ultimately acquitted); the police raid on the flat of the owner of our own Władza Rad web domain on April 30 2018; the police intervention during the scientific conference on Karl Marx in Pobierowo.

The regime of Jarosław Kaczyński has decided on an amendment of the penal code, which effectively abolishes freedom of speech and political pluralism in Poland: ie, the freedom to organise in political parties and to propagate one’s views for people with a communist worldview. This is the first step on the road to banning the Communist Party of Poland, to which so far - despite intimidation, repressions and trials lasting years - not a single crime or violation of Polish law has been proved.

Can one imagine a similar situation in western Europe? Germany, France, Italy, Great Britain, Spain or Portugal without communist parties and communists’ rights to present their views? Meanwhile in Poland under the rule of the authoritarian and semi-fascist PiS regime, communist propaganda would be punished by a three-year jail sentence.

The law, which has been in preparation for several months in the ministry of justice, has passed its first reading in the Sejm (lower chamber of parliament) at a time of a huge outcry in the media over paedophilia in the Catholic church. The bill will now be debated in the Senate, before coming back to the Sejm, where another vote is scheduled for June 12.

The current constitution contains clauses guaranteeing human rights (article 5) and international law (article 9), yet minister of justice Zbigniew Ziobro is himself violating civil liberties. The adoption of the act will have much wider consequences than the next wave of anti-communist repression. The PiS has accused the social democratic Razem party (Together) of communism and tried to ban it - which shows that anti-communist legislation can ultimately be a tool used for mass repression against any kind of political opposition, even one that is ideologically very far from communism.

Ziobro is a coward, who is trying to sneak through such radical changes through the back door. Reactionary politicians like him are terribly anxious about the haunting spectre of communism, although in Poland (unlike, for example, in Greece or the Czech Republic), the communist party is neither a mass party nor a major political force. These legal changes show that the previous acts of repressions against the Communist Party of Poland and Władza Rad were unlawful and political in nature.

Every previous attempt to ‘de-communise’ Polish public life by the anti-democratic right wing has ended in devastating defeat. The attempt to remove left-connected street names, which was initiated by the law of April 2016, resulted in social protests. Ultimately the courts struck down most of the proposed changes. After three years of trial, despite strong political pressure, on January 18 2019 a court acquitted the editors of Brzask, the magazine published by the Communist Party of Poland.

The Władza Rad editors call on all on the left and all who value human rights and civil liberties - including freedom of speech and the right to organise in political parties - to put pressure on Poland’s anti-democratic regime in order to prevent these legal changes, that would abolish democratic liberties in Poland.

Władza Rad