What is flawed is Tony Clark’s mistaken belief that Marx’s teaching is that socialism comes from dictatorship rather than democracy (Letters, January 9).
Tony’s criticism may apply to Leninism, but not to Marxism. Just where is the basis of such assertions in the writings of Marx? Perhaps it is that misunderstood phrase of Marx, “the dictatorship of the proletariat”, which confuses Tony. Can I recommend Hal Draper’s analysis in ‘Marx and the dictatorship of the proletariat’?
The Marxist view can be summarised briefly as the working class must first - either peacefully or forcibly, if required - win control of the state. Then they must make it completely democratic, and use it to dispossess the capitalists and establish the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. This done, there would no longer be any need for the state, which consequently would cease to exist.
Marx sometimes called the period between the winning of political power and the final establishment of socialism the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, because during it, state power would be used by the working class. During this period the workers would be using the state to transform society from capitalism to socialism by taking various measures, depending on the circumstances of the time, aimed at abolishing private property in the means of production. Once socialism had abolished classes, the coercive features of the state machine would have been removed, leaving only its administrative functions.
Let us emphasise what Marx said about the state: “The existence of the state and the existence of slavery are inseparable”; “In order, therefore, to assert themselves as individuals, they must overthrow the state”; “The working class, in the course of its development, will substitute for the old civil society an association which will exclude classes and their antagonism, and there will be no more political power”; “When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of the associated individuals, the public power will lose its political character”; and finally “All Socialists understand by ‘anarchy’ this: the aim of the proletarian movement, the abolition of classes, once achieved, then the power of the state, which serves to keep the great producing majority under the yoke of a small exploiting minority, will disappear and the functions of government will be transformed into simple administrative functions.”
Marx is explicitly saying that socialist society is to be a no-state, no-government system.
Socialist Party of Great Britain
Jack Conrad makes a bold but weak defence of the CPGB’s failed policy of Labour Party entryism (Letters, January 9).
He writes about dialectics, and is quite correct to do so, but dialectics is more than soundbites about quantity turning into quality, and swings to the right being followed by an equal and opposite swing to the left. This latter component of dialectics is the theoretical basis of both the CPGB’s and the International Marxist Tendency’s continued work within a Labour Party which, following the recent general election, is in terminal decline.
Jack rallies against having a fixed position regarding Labour, but continues to adhere to Lenin’s description of it as a bourgeois workers’ party. However, as dialectical materialism points out, organisations are in a state of continual change, and in my opinion a qualitative change has occurred in the nature of the Labour Party.
As recently pointed out by the now revisionist Owen Jones in an article in The Guardian, Labour is going in the same direction as all other European social democratic parties. It is therefore only a matter of time before it follows the examples of the Greek Pasok and the French Socialist Party - into oblivion and collapse. The latter has recently been forced to sell its prestigious Paris headquarters in order to pay off accumulated debts. Appropriately, the building will now be converted into luxury flats.
Andrew Northall was correct to point out that the whole of the left, including the revolutionary left and the trade union bureaucracy, bet the entire farm on a Corbyn victory, and lost very badly (Letters, December 19). The Labour Party brand is now very toxic, as pointed out by Dave Douglass (Letters, January 9), especially in those ‘leave’ areas where ex-miners who went through the 1984-85 strike voted in substantial numbers for an Eton toff.
Just as Gerald Ratner destroyed the Ratner jewellery shop chain through his “total crap” remark, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have destroyed the Labour Party brand. The 3.5 million increase in Labour votes in the 2017 general election was only a temporary respite from the downward spiral in its support.
Only the Socialist Workers Party and its two offshoots - Counterfire and Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century - have come out of the 2019 general election debacle with any authority. As the SWP’s ‘What we stand for’ column says each week in Socialist Worker, “Socialism cannot come through parliament”, whatever Jack Conrad argues to the contrary.
As the SWP, Counterfire, and RS21 correctly point out, real power lies in the workplaces and on the streets, and not in the Westminster parliament. With Boris Johnson having a substantial working majority in parliament, that is where the real battle for socialism in the next five years will be.
This means revolutionaries, as shown in the USA in the 1930s, working to transform the trade unions into militant organisations of working class struggle against the monopoly corporations. Whereas in the 1930s the big battles were with people like Henry T Ford, in the 2020s the big battles will be to unionise corporations like Amazon, DPD, Hermes, Deliveroo, Uber, Wetherspoons, Costa, Starbucks, Greggs, Tesco and Asda, amongst many others.
Unlike Jack Conrad, Marxists must not waste their valuable time, energy and resources in a failed attempt to organise the rapidly declining number of liberals who inhabit the Constituency Labour Parties. Marxists, as the SWP decided at its recent conference, must turn to work within the workplaces and on the streets in the Stop the War Coalition, Extinction Rebellion and Stand up to Racism campaigns.
Jack Conrad has answered most of the nonsense regarding the position of the “Weekly Worker group” on Corbyn and the Labour Party. With others he has also pre-empted some of the letters in the January 9 paper. I would like to make a couple of further comments.
From the time that Jeremy Corbyn got onto the leadership ballot paper I thought of his success as a rock in a pond - a very stagnant pond - and still do. He has called into question both abject subservience to the US and the ‘necessity’ of austerity, even if he hasn’t answered those questions very well. Further, I would suggest that the Labour Party is not a vehicle for much in the way of socialism, but an arena in which socialists should join the fight.
Tony Clark in his letter suggests that “Karl Marx and his followers” have made a “mistake” in aiming for a “dictatorship rather than democracy”. He may not have noticed that the usual way of putting it is a call for the “dictatorship of the working class” rather than of a Stalin or even a Lenin. The point is the call for the “class” and the first model was the Paris Commune, which like so many other attempts to usurp state power was drowned in blood.
The dictatorship of the working class implies, I believe, the dictatorship of billions of people worldwide, with democracy as the means of taking decisions and action. We already have a dictatorship of a class - the bourgeoisie - and they are not keen on democracy. In the UK we don’t even have democracy in the Labour Party (or Momentum), let alone the country as a whole.
In a real democracy who would vote for mass unemployment, inadequate pay, a privatised health service … (we can all create our own long list)? The world’s dominant power, always keen to introduce ‘freedom and democracy’ left, right and centre is even backtracking hard on its own limited democracy. Massive amounts of money are spent to maintain and increase profits for the arms industry, big pharma, the banks … (another list?).
As Ilhan Omar said, “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby”, and, at some surprisingly cheap rates, US capitalism buys up almost all of the members of Congress, the Senate, plus, of course, the presidency. At the same time they are taking the vote from millions of Americans by a variety of subterfuges - including the voter IDs that Johnson is keen to introduce here. And then there is the gerrymandering which in the US has gone to ludicrous extremes: and Trump lost the popular vote by three million.
While ‘democracy’ goes in the opposite direction to the genuinely democratic, we have a world hurtling towards the extinction of the human race, along with most other species. We have a world economy in which even bourgeois economists worry about unsustainable debt and we have millions in various countries rising up to oppose corruption. (I wonder, is there a single country in the world in which the ruling classes are not corrupt?)
Thomas Klikauer writes, in his letter headed ‘Age of populism’, of the dominance of media, especially today social media, saying: “the rise of the Age of Populism is paralleled by the phenomenal growth of anti-social media”; and further: “Jeremy Corbyn did not lose an election - he never had a chance in the first place.” It is true that any threat from the left is always attacked by the most vitriolic means by the bourgeoisie in all media available - a reason why Weekly Worker correspondents so regularly point to the necessity of a working class press.
Jeremy Corbyn, if my memory serves me right (it does), and his supporters have received far more abuse than any of his predecessors, such as Michael Foot or even folk such as Ken Livingstone and Arthur Scargill. The vile smear of anti-Semitism is a barrel bottom rarely if ever reached before. One way of avoiding this is, of course, to reassure the ruling class that you present no kind of threat, as Tony Blair did with such success. As an American commentator said in the summer, “Why do we need Democrats? In order to help Republicans enact measures they can’t pass on their own.” It has a certain familiar ring to it, does it not?
However, I would suggest that Corbyn lost it, among many other reasons, through disappointment. He folded to the right, eventually, on the smear, on Trident and then on Brexit. He could give no hope to Labour voters that he would not bend on the whole election programme, once push came to shove.
This disappointment is a familiar emotion for Labour voters: Blair lost nearly three million votes in his second election (more than Corbyn did in his second) and that was before the Iraq invasion! He and Brown continued to lose votes, and members, until there was a slight recovery in 2015 with Miliband and a much bigger one with Corbyn in 2017. Even in 2019 Labour had more votes than they had in 2005, 2010 and 2015.
A further symptom of disappointment comes in the election turnout. In 2001 it was 59.4% (according to Wikipedia) and that was the first time in the history of UK elections since full adult suffrage was available (1929) that the turnout dropped below not just 70%, but 60%. The previous low was in the much vaunted year of Labour defeat 1935, when it was 71.1%, marginally below Blair’s “triumph” in 1997, when it was 71.4% (though then there was a low Tory vote - perhaps they get disappointed too).
So, Labour can lose not only through the attacks of others, but also through their own lack of strength, stamina and principle. The contenders for leader seem to be vying with each other as a safe pair of hands and looking for what might be the most successful of the various opportunist policies and words they can muster. Not a lot of democracy here.
I am grateful and appreciative of the responses from Jack Conrad, Tony Clark and John Smithee to my letter of December 19.
The Weekly Worker Group has no right or basis whatsoever to use the term ‘CPGB. The CPGB dissolved itself in 1991 and the Communist Party of Britain, which in 1988 re-established itself on the basis of the CPGB’s rules and political programme, is the practical, political and legal inheritor of the name. The party’s programme Britain’s road to socialism is clearly a continuation of the CPGB’s British road to socialism. The CPB’s original membership was entirely made up of existing and illegally excluded members of the CPGB.
The predecessor to the WWG was The Leninist, an illegal and secret faction buried within the CPGB and consisting of entryists who were ex-members of the New Communist Party, which broke away from the CPGB in 1977.
Jack claims his group (and it is his group) “has a long and entirely consistent position on the Labour Party”. In the form of formal theses, that may be true, but in practice? No. Whilst the Labour Party, originally characterised by Lenin as a “bourgeois workers party”, has not changed in this essential from foundation to present day, the attitude of the WWG has been the opposite of consistent. Far from “consistently” orientating itself to the Labour Party, the WWG has successively entered and left Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party, entered and left the Socialist Alliance, entered and left Left Unity.
The WWG left LU and entered Labour after 2015 precisely because of the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader and the political change and opportunities this provided - hence my remark including the WWG as part of the left disoriented by Corbyn and Corbynism. Labour Party Marxists is just the WWG under a different name, and the same individuals using different names. It is really obvious who James Marshall is.
My central point remains that with the extremely scarce resources of the WWG, is it a better and more principled political strategy to continue to bury into the Labour Party or to focus on the building of a genuine Communist Party in this country. Yes, of course, that Communist Party must engage with the Labour Party and its structures. Yes, of course, Communist Party members will work with and alongside Labour Party members and seek to win them to its point of view. But openly and democratically, not as part of a secret, entryist operation.
Mike Macnair expresses the central incoherence of the WWG’s approach to the Labour Party - condemning it for seeking to win elections (‘Corbynism is over’ Weekly Worker December 19)! The whole point of the Labour Party is precisely to try and win elections, to influence legislation, to win governmental office and to use that to pass reforms beneficial to working people and ameliorate the effects of capitalism. If it can’t win elections, it has very little value or use to the working class. The Labour Party in office has passed a number of significant and beneficial reforms, which also happened to strengthen and consolidate capitalism and capitalist ideology.
The WWG seems to want to try and convert - or, given their actual resources, wish - the Labour Party into a semi-revolutionary party. And at the same time they (correctly) point to the need for a genuine and ultimately mass Communist Party, stating (correctly) that the Labour Party cannot be that Communist Party. So we have desperate confusion and strategic incoherence. And effort and resources diverted from the task of building a Communist Party.
The WWG’s theses on ‘Prospects of a Corbyn government’, published on December 7 2017, called for a Corbyn government in 2020 to “immediately” implement a range of drastic and dramatic measures, including dissolution of the standing army, which frankly only a genuinely workers’ government, emerging after a revolutionary upheaval and with a revolutionary state at its disposal, could carry out. This is seriously confusing the role of the Labour Party with that of a Communist Party and the election of a government with socialist revolution. No wonder the WWG consistently avoids any discussion whatsoever about the essential elements and features of a genuine socialist revolution (see my letter, August 16 2019).
I think that under capitalism it is beneficial to have a left-of-centre progressive political party capable of attracting mass support and winning elections, especially as an opposition to the principal political party of the capitalist class. More importantly it is an existing feature of most advanced capitalist states. It is right for socialists and communists to place expectations and demands on such political parties, especially those which claim to represent the working class - to push them as far as they can possible go, both to deliver maximum gains for the working class under capitalism and to educate the masses as to the limits of doing this under capitalism and raising the need for more fundamental socialist transformation. This, in essence, is the approach of all editions of the British road to socialism from 1951 to 2020.
This does include working with and helping strengthening the left and socialists within the Labour Party and increasing their influence on the leadership, the Parliamentary Labour Party and its policies and programme. But this can’t be at the expense of Labour losing either its mass membership or electoral base. Labour will always be primarily a coalition of trade unionists, social democrats, socialists and including an element which is genuinely Marxist and revolutionary.
With Labour losing the fourth election in a row, I think socialists, communists, Marxists, progressives, revolutionaries, etc need to smell the coffee and go back to basics. We are active in politics and in a variety of organisations, because fundamentally we believe that capitalism needs to be overthrown and replaced by socialism - the political and economic power and rule of the working class specifically; working people more generally.
This replacement of one system of society by another has to be effected through revolutionary means. The capitalist classes and imperialist elites will never consent to having their fabulous wealth and power taken away from them. The revolutionary means will not be a series of successive governmental processes, which last for years, even decades. A genuine socialist revolution will be led by the masses and will probably take place in days and weeks, and over months spread over countries and continents.
To help encourage the working classes and progressive allies from the intermediate strata to see and understand the need for socialism and for socialist revolution, we do need a united, mass communist party, which unites the great majority of socialists, communists and revolutionary democrats in it. We need, and I want to see, a Communist Party with a membership of hundreds of thousands - millions even.
Joining and building such a united, mass communist party is going to be a million times more valuable than obsessing over the politics, policies, personalities and leadership of the Labour Party. I am quite comfortable with the Labour Party either sorting itself out and determining a leadership and strategy capable of winning elections and then passing legislative reforms which benefit and protect working people, or going into terminal decline.
The emergence of a stronger, united and mass Communist Party will have a dynamic impact on the Labour Party - it is not at all clear how and in what direction, but we will be influencing changes and developments from a position of greater strength and greater mobilisation, organisation and leadership of the working class.
p>In response to my previous criticism of Dave Vincent’s English nationalist Brexit position, he replies: “I’m not an English nationalist, of course” (Letters, December 12 2019). Is this a statement of fact or ignorance or complacency? The English right are proud of their version of England. Dave is from the English left, who are in denial about their own attitudes and behaviour. This makes them more dangerous.
Reactionary English nationalism is a peculiar beast. It is in reality an Anglo-British ideology, which speaks in the English language, but acts in the interests of Britain. The English left are dangerous because they deny their own nationalist attitudes by claiming to be British or cosmopolitans or even ‘internationalists’.
The 2016 European Union referendum is the most recent acid test of English (ie, Anglo-British) attitudes. Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain in the EU. Every English internationalist and democrat must defend the right of these nations to do that. The English nationalist left cannot conceive that the majority in Northern Ireland and Scotland should be respected. It is not ‘practical’ for these nations to ‘go off’ without England. They must bend to the will of the master race.
I see nothing so far in Dave’s comments that reject an English nationalist Brexit. Any socialist in England who gives moral, ideological or ultimately military support to the denial of votes in Ireland and Scotland is a social chauvinist who falls in behind interests of their own Anglo-British ruling class. Railing against the evils of Irish and Scottish nationalism are not an answer, but a smokescreen.
Dave says that “reforming the EU is as impossible as pulling the Labour Party to the left”. Nothing is impossible - whether socialism, reforming the EU or moving Labour Party to the left. It is a trivial point to say, ‘Change is possible’, and nonsense to say it is impossible. The EU can be reformed, but this is a waste of time. It cannot be reformed into democratic federal republic, because this requires a popular democratic revolution.
Why is Dave speaking only about the impossibility of reform instead of making the case for the necessity of democratic revolution? Why is the European working class the only class that can lead such a revolution to victory?
We have to look to the democratic movements in Catalonia, Ireland, Scotland and other European nations. These must be supported as parts of a pan-European democracy. I can agree with Dave that a European republic cannot be achieved by piecemeal reform through the existing EU constitutional treaties and the European parliament.
Dave might argue, like the old ‘economists’, that he doesn’t want democracy, but only socialism. Lenin dismissed that, saying that democracy does not negate or hold back socialism, but is the only road to it. Hence we insist that winning a democratic republic is not socialism or the abolition of capitalism, but it makes the socialisation of private property both possible and necessary. This is an idea which is anathema to anarchists and syndicalists.