In his March 12 article, ‘Lessons being learned’, Paul Demarty observed that “The USA is born of two revolutions so far.” The last two words set my teeth on edge because they suggested that the next revolution will be a continuation of the other two.
This is why I characterised his argument as “popular frontist” (‘Democracy is central’, April 17) - because it echoes the US Communist Party argument of the 1930s and after - that leftists should fight on the basis of a specifically American programme of Jeffersonian democracy, agrarianism and a properly-interpreted constitution. It is this policy that established the CPUSA as leftwing supplicants of the Democrats, but it is the diametric opposite of the Trotskyist concept of a united front of the working class, in which workers set themselves athwart any such bourgeois tradition. This doesn’t mean that they should turn their back on the events of 1776 or 1861-65. But establishing workers as an independent political force strongly encourages them to criticise that tradition root and branch.
But comrade Demarty’s letter is evidence that he doesn’t quite grasp what this entails (April 23). He says that the American left should “fight to split the Democratic Party on class lines” and that doing so “must involve a distinctive programme for actual democracy”. This assumes that the Democrats are indeed a political party, just as the pundits and academics all say. But, as I’ve argued elsewhere in this space (eg, ‘Explosive contradictions’, February 23), they are not a party as the rest of the world understands the term, since they lack anything by way of a rank-and-file membership or a common programme, but, rather, are nothing more than a state-regulated mutual-assistance organisation for aspiring office-holders. By all means, let’s detach Democratic voters, and Republican ones as well, from such a corrupt structure. But it’s impossible to split the organisation, since the politicians actually are firmly united in pursuit of their own narrow self-interests.
Similarly, Paul Demarty should understand that fighting for “a distinctive programme for actual democracy” means repudiating the corrupt pseudo-democratic politics that have characterised the US since the civil war - indeed, since before the civil war. Any such programme must entail democratic centralism, unicameralism, proportional representation, strictest political equality and popular sovereignty over and above parchment documents like the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, all of which would have people like Jefferson rolling over in their graves. (Demarty might be interested to know that, in addition to being an industrialist, urbanist and early opponent of slavery, Alexander Hamilton argued in favour of a unicameral national assembly at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787.)
As for Walter Daum and Matthew Roberts, I agree that America will take a giant step toward Bonapartism if Trump succeeds in stealing the next election (Letters, April 23). I also agree that Joe Biden is better when it comes to voter suppression, gerrymandering and the like. But I think they also suffer from an unduly national perspective. If they would step back, they would see that the situation is more complex and ironic than they apparently realise.
For example, not only is Biden’s record in purely democratic issues atrocious - he joined with segregationists in opposing school bussing, he was a key architect of mass incarceration and he opposed the Reagan-Bush Sr drug war from the right by arguing for stiffer penalties against drug users as well as drug dealers - but he’s also an arch-imperialist who’s been neck-deep in every major US crime of the last 30 years, from the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan to the destruction of Libya, Syria and Yemen, covert assistance to al Qa’eda, and support for the neo-Nazi-spearheaded coup in the Ukraine. If his first major campaign ad was an attack on Trump for not being tougher on the Chinese, it’s because American aggression is in his bones. So, while he’d be better in Wisconsin, he’d be worse when it comes to the rest of the world, where US power predominates.
Trump, it’s worth remembering, won in 2016 because he opposed US misadventures in Syria and the Ukraine. While Daum and Roberts say that Democrats took a stand against “lawless authoritarianism” in the recent impeachment trial, what really infuriated neocons like Adam Schiff was Trump’s ambivalence with regard to the imperialist war effort in Ukraine’s eastern provinces.
As for Bonapartism, it’s important to bear in mind that the trend is systemic. Not only have checks and balances led to a 35-year cold war on Capitol Hill, but the very logic of the system suggests that the only way to unlock the logjam is by the executive taking the bit in its teeth and asserting supremacy over the other two branches. Is Trump behaving unconstitutionally in so doing? Or is he simply taking the constitution to its logical conclusion?
Daum and Roberts add: “Republicans are trying to unfreeze the republic by securing a new majority in the Supreme Court committed to an unprecedented, counterrevolutionary reinterpretation of the constitution.” But since when do socialists line up behind judicial precedent? As for the counterrevolutionary reinterpretation that Republicans are allegedly promoting, the constitutional tradition is such an incoherent muddle by this point that it’s impossible to know even where to begin in determining what a correct interpretation means.
So, yes, let’s oppose Trump’s power grab, and let’s be realistic in admitting that a Biden victory might, to a limited degree, “buy time for working class and oppressed people to use their rights to vote and to organise in unions”. But it will not enable them to “struggle against the imperialist-capitalist policies of both parties”, since it will bind them all the more securely to one such party and hence to the ‘Repocratic’ duopoly as a whole. The political independence of the working class vis-à-vis both parties is still the prime goal.
I thought last week’s Weekly Worker was extremely good: not surprisingly the bulk of the issue was devoted to the serious pandemic situation we are all in. One of the exceptions was Moshé Machover’s article on the ‘Labour leak’ and its background (‘Weaponising “anti-Semitism”’, April 23).
Though Weekly Worker readers will be familiar with most of Moshé’s material, I thought that the Venn diagram approach was extremely useful. This helps with analysis of the situation in the Labour Party and beyond; it helps bring extra clarity to thought on the subject; and it provides a useful framework for argument - when we get the opportunity to do much arguing again - especially in the Labour Party.
Meanwhile we have Mike Macnair’s piece on the long-term impact of the pandemic on capitalism, and on the working class, nationally and internationally (‘Crisis and consequences’). The same concerns - for capitalism at least - are shared by politicians, academics and the media, as we can see each day, though with a good deal less foresight and candour.
What is going to happen to the airlines, to the leisure industry? What cheap pickings are going to be available to the vultures and what is going to happen to jobs? As Mike points out, long-term unemployment all over the world, even with a few ‘pay-outs’, is likely to lead to starvation.
We can see, in stark clarity, basic inequalities - often spoken of by politicians, the pope and, of course, the Davos crowd. But that was just something to regret, something to ‘do something about’ - or ignore, as the more alert of us might have realised. These inequalities cannot be so easily ignored, now that people are dying because of them (and more will do so).
Also, in stark clarity, stands the incompetence and indifference of governments. In Britain, decades of defunding and privatisation have led to dire straits - not just in the NHS, but in care homes, local authority provision of all kinds, including the environmental health workers needed for proper ‘test and trace’ work. And then we have the closure of women’s refuges and all sorts of facilities desperately needed by some - unnoticed by most and ditched by government.
Just on page 2 of last weekend’s Financial Times (April 25-26) there were four stories. The main one was about “overwhelmed” care homes, another about government incompetence in the delivery of gowns from Turkey. A third was about the unusual (internationally speaking) failure of the UK to check international travellers at airports. The fourth concerned the lack of progress by the UK on Brexit - something to hit the headlines on another day perhaps.
There are clearly countries around the world who are having a much worse time than we are. Thanks to Modi in India, Erdoğan in Turkey, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Lenin (bless him) Moreno of Ecuador and, of course, the main contender for ‘top clown’, Donald Trump.
Mike ends with the call that so often ends Weekly Worker articles and letters (including mine) - for the building of a Communist Party. As far as I’ve made out (and I’m sure there are plenty of readers here who could put me right if necessary) from reading the paper and from attending Communist University, the CPGB (PCC) is looking to unite Marxists, however currently misguided, into such a party. United, not around a charismatic leader or an esoteric reading of Marx or Lenin, but around a programme. There can be factions and disagreements, but unity in action.
To that end the Weekly Worker has regular critiques and analyses on the multitude of grouplets that, loosely, define ‘the left’ and also allows for reply - not only in letters but also, from time to time, in articles.
I am reminded that when I was new to the paper (not all that long ago) I looked at interesting articles online in the ‘WW archive’. A mate of mine used to be in the International Socialists, but left the Socialist Workers Party because he reckoned that it had become a sect. So, as a matter of curiosity I read the obituaries of Tony Cliff - not surprisingly there was a lot of criticism. However, there was an obituarist (and I haven’t been able to find the reference again) who said that, although Cliff was wrong in claiming that the USSR was ‘state capitalist’, nevertheless he would be proud to march shoulder to shoulder with him to battle against the ruling class.
The fight to build a party, as can also be illuminated in the archive, is bloody hard work. Just how hard can be glimpsed in William Sarsfield’s series of articles over the last several weeks (eg, ‘Party and parliament’, April 23) about the fight to unify disparate groups in the UK to form a Communist Party. And this was at a time when workers all over the world were inspired by the example of the Russian Revolution.
We do not now have that example in our direct and immediate experience, which may make things harder in the short term, but maybe better in the long. But we do have an international working class with massively greater numbers and with a massively greater level of education too. The job is still there to do and we must do it.
The Conservative government’s offer last week of £60,000 in compensation to the family of any health worker “dying in the course of their duties” from Covid-19 is not just akin to medieval blood-money. It also represents a new depth of diversionary depravity, of macabre decadence - depths that anyone with an ounce of revolutionary verve will wish to strike back against with communistic venom.