On September 2 I attended a public meeting organised by the London district committee and North London Communist Party of Britain (before the events of this week in parliament obviously).
The leaflet for the event - entitled ‘Brexit for the people. No to EU Austerity! Why Labour should support leave’ - promised an action-packed discussion, proving that Brexit - or Lexit, as proposed by the CPB’s new front, Leave, Fight, Transform (LeFT) - was needed for “the people”. The Marx Memorial Library and Workers School meeting hall was crowded.
International speakers had been invited. Thassod Mangelis from the KKE (Communist Party of Greece) spoke about the situation in Greece, and argued that the European Union cannot be democratised because of its relations with Nato - they are the leading anti-communist organisations that equate fascism with communism - and that the benefits go mainly to Germany. He ended his statement with the cry, “Workers of the world, unite!”
Next spoke Andreas Gregoriou, secretary of the Cypriot Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) in Britain. He stressed the “needs of the people” in Cyprus, with unemployment and poverty rising; the shrinking of the public sector. He said that austerity revealed the real nature of the system - one-third of the population is living on or under a living wage and that the unemployment rate for youth is 30%.
Mick Carty, general secretary of the Connolly Association, changed the tenor by speaking about the situation in Ireland with respect to relations between the north and south, and the EU. He amused the audience by claiming that the EU’s free mobility of labour gave Irish workers “a choice of places to emigrate to”. He stated that the Connolly Association worked for Irish unity and independence and as such did not take a position on the backstop.
The long-awaited main speaker of the evening, Labour peer Maurice Glasman, spoke next. He argued that the difference between globalisation and internationalism was being eroded in the discussion. The EU, he argued, being a great capitalist enterprise, “makes resistance to capitalism illegal”. The EU gives priority to capital over labour.
Internationalism was solidarity with the oppressed. Globalisation was defiance of working class agency, despising working people. It is not the uneducated who are opposed to Brexit (after all, teachers voted against Brexit): even the Labour leadership was abandoning opposition to the EU and so no longer represented working class democracy. He claimed that the progressive left would, in this way, allow the right to win. We must honour, he stated, the political views of those who didn’t go to university. The EU was the opposite of democracy.
The last speaker of the evening was Mary Davis, speaking for the CPB. She began her statement by reiterating that the CPB has always taken the position that the EU represents big business and is for the freedom of capital. The class interest of the EU was to call for the ruling class to paper over the cracks in the system. So the need is to leave and get rid of austerity for the majority of workers - who were, in any case, opposed to the EU. No trade union, she stated, has had debates with their own members on the question of EU membership. Social Europe is dead and buried, she averred, and unions have usually followed the Labour Party line.
Professor Davis asked what the principles, strategy and tactics were in this struggle, and answered her own question in this way:
Principle: the road to socialism (she did not specify if this was the British road ...).
Strategy: Brexit was part of the necessary strategy to achieve socialism, because it is impossible to transform the current order within the EU. We (eg, the left) want Brexit because we want that change to socialism.
Tactics: yes to a general election, yes to no deal, unless there is a good deal. “We” are committed to parliamentary sovereignty, so the need is to oppose the prorogation of parliament. In addition “we” need an international Brexit, so that there is a social transformation leading to socialism.
Questions and statements followed, which included a remark from the KKE speaker that the EU was passing laws leading to “modern slavery”. However, one question unanswered by this meeting was how nationalist interest could be transformed into socialism, and another asked at the end (which seemed to sum up the questions not asked or answered by this meeting) was: “How do we win the unity of the working class?”
There will be a fringe meeting of the LeFT group at the TUC conference, at which Arthur Scargill will be coming out of retirement to speak, alongside the general secretary of the CPB, Robert Griffiths.
Despite what Jack Conrad writes, I have never claimed that Lenin innovated when he called post-capitalist society ‘socialism’ (‘The two phases of communism’, August 15). This was standard practice amongst first-generation Marxists and, in fact, shows that for them the words ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ were interchangeable.
Lenin’s ‘innovation’ was to see ‘socialism’ starting at the beginning of the period Marx envisaged when the working class would be using its control of political power to transform capitalist society into ‘communist society’ (or, the same thing, ‘socialist society’): ie, a period during which socialism (or communism) had yet to be established.
Lenin further ‘innovated’ by extending this period into what Marx had called the “first phase of communist society”. As a result he has the state and the wages system continuing to survive into socialism/communism. As he put it in State and revolution, in this phase “all citizens are transformed into hired employees of the state” (chapter 5, section 3). In other articles from the same period Lenin frequently confused state capitalism and socialism in this way, as all Leninists have done ever since.
I see that Jack and the CPGB follow Lenin here, defining socialism as “the rule of the working class”, whereas socialism means the disappearance of all classes, including the working class. For you, as for him, ‘socialism’ starts when the working class win political power, not when the means of production have become the common property of society under democratic control - by which time the state, money, wages, profits, banks, etc will have disappeared.
Jack also talks of a “transitional society”, whereas Marx had written only of a “political transition period”, not a new form of society. For more on this, see the article I wrote decades ago on ‘The myth of the transitional society’(https://bataillesocialiste.wordpress.com/english-pages/1975-the-myth-of-the-transitional-society-buick).
It only remains to add that, given the tremendous development of the forces of production since Marx’s day, capitalism can now be transformed into socialism/communism fairly quickly - and that exchanging quotes from Marx settles only the academic, historical question of what Marx thought, not what should be done today.
Socialist Party of Great Britain
Paul Demarty’s article on the continuing crisis in Hong Kong undoubtedly raised the key problem of the protest movement there - the lack of a programme for China (‘We need a game plan’, August 15). However, the article didn’t put forward any such programme, so we are left wondering if Paul has it in mind to write a second article, in which he might suggest the outlines of such a programme.
If he does plan to do so, he may well need to start with a clearer analysis of the class nature of China. Throwaway phrases such as “the capitalist elite” or “the Stalinist-capitalist dictatorship of China as a whole” just create more confusion than clarity. And an unclear analysis of the situation in China will inevitably have a limiting effect on any programme.
Actually, the Chinese regime’s own definition of their system as “market socialism” is a reasonably accurate assessment of the current system in China. It is as if Lenin’s New Economic Programme of 1921 has been taken to the ultimate level.
Given that the public sector is still dominant in China (80%, including state ownership of the banks), the central demand needs to be for the democratisation of the state, society and the economy. But not along the competitive lines of capitalist democracy: rather in a collectivist form, based on participatory democracy. That is something we also need in the west.
Labour International (personal capacity)
Banks are closing down local branches and removing cash services. Customers wishing to withdraw money as cash are directed to cash machines, but the number of ATMs is declining. Mobile payments - either for bill paying or person-to-person transactions - will be the last nail in the coffin for cash.
In countries that lead this transition to a digital economy - Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark - nearly all transactions, both in volume and number, are digital. Today, less than three percent of consumer payments in Norway are in cash. And what has happened in Scandinavia is now happening in the UK too.
We must support the move to a cash-free society. But it should mean that all people, including the unbanked and the homeless, should be given access to a basic bank account, debit card and smartphone, as happens in Scandinavia. A cash-free society will lead to a big reduction in the black economy, including organised and petty crime. Just like the call for the legalisation of all drugs and of prostitution, this must be brought to the fore.
As the UK becomes more and more a cash-free society, a change in how leftwing papers are sold will need to take place. Paper-sellers will have to carry on them card readers, such as iZettle or Square. The Socialist Workers Party has already tried out card readers on its stalls in Bristol. Similarly, sellers of the Weekly Worker will have to acquire card readers for use on stalls, meetings, etc.
We must prepare for a new world where cash is no longer king.