I was surprised to read in last week’s paper readers expressing their despair at the Labour Party and their determination to leave it: “time to jump ship”, says Tony McKenna; Socialists are “flogging a dead horse”, says John Smithee (Letters, July 2). I’m not surprised at people wanting to leave the party - it’s a pretty common feeling at the moment - but surprised that readers of the Weekly Worker had any great hopes for the party in the first place.
Communists have been saying for a long time, including in this paper, that the Labour Party is an arena, not a vehicle. Jeremy Corbyn succeeded for a while in making it a much bigger arena than it had been for a long time. That has been his contribution, much as allowing the word ‘socialist’ to be used in polite society in the US was that of Bernie Sanders.
I thought, when I joined the Labour Party to vote for Corbyn, that he was like a rock thrown into a stagnant pond - it would be interesting to see what waves or ripples would result. There was never any reason to expect an awful lot. His greatest moment was probably the launch (sorry, leak) of the manifesto for the 2017 election campaign. But there was a letter to The Guardian at the time, which said that, if you think this is radical, you should look at Harold Wilson’s 1964 manifesto - true enough.
McKenna says: “But the Labour Party itself is a spent force. It is destined to be reduced to a secondary wing of the ruling elite - which might come into power every now and again, initiating the same ruling class economic policies which decimate the poor and the vulnerable; but papering this over with the type of liberal clichés and cynical nod to progressivism required to prop up this façade of a ‘democracy’, and offer the illusion of choice.”
Well, yes, when was it anything else? The Labour leadership has never led anything useful to the working class: it has usually acted as an obstruction - a supporter of empire, whether British or American. It didn’t ‘lead’ in the General Strike, in the Spanish civil war, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the miners’ strike (or strikes) - some members did lead, yes; leaders, no. And it wasn’t just an obstacle: often a leader of the attack on the working class - against strikes, against rights, against the welfare state, for war …
But, as above, it’s an arena. There are still over 10 million voters and maybe over half a million members. Sir Keir will try, with his staff working night and day, to get that latter number back to a ‘respectable’ 100,000 or so. I don’t see why “radicals”, as Tony calls them, should help Starmer in his task. He wants you to leave - so stay.
Maybe, against the abysmal Johnson, he could still win an election and carry on with the economic and foreign policies that Johnson leaves. Win or lose, he will no doubt end up with a peerage.
Meanwhile, however, the climate is still changing, unemployment is set to rocket, war is on the agenda (for us faithful bag-carriers of US imperialism) and people notice. People ‘on the streets’, in the trades unions - but also in the Labour Party.
Tony McKenna believes that the remaining radicals in the Labour Party are aboard a sinking vessel and it’s time to jump ship (Letters, July 2). So sectarianism is alive and well then. His view is also based on short-term thinking.
McKenna is making the same mistake as most of the radical left - inside and outside the Labour Party. In fact, the best place for the left is precisely the Labour Party, regardless of whether the present leadership is rightwing or not. The reason is because we are facing an historical discontinuity, which capitalism has never faced before. This is the end of the cheap-oil age, which lasted about 150 years. How the elite will respond to this crisis will depend on which section of the elite is in power. The invasion of Iraq and Libya - both oil-rich countries - is how the right wing of the elite in America responded in the short term, using the pretext of the ‘war on terrorism’.
The coming economic collapse - which will result from oil prices climbing higher, once we move past peak-oil production into decline - is bound to give birth to a process of political radicalisation. The advanced capitalist societies, with the partial exception of France in May-June 1968, have been able to avoid political radicalisation because of the high living standards which cheap oil made possible. But, when the energy crisis begins to bite, this will no longer be the case. Because the elite supported fascism in Italy, Germany and Spain in the 1920s and 30s doesn’t automatically mean they will side with fascism again.
Contrary to what McKenna writes, it is not Labour which is a sinking vessel: it’s capitalism. We don’t have to abandon the Labour vessel. It is the elite who will have to decide whether to abandon the sinking ship of capitalism. This is the historical discontinuity, which those who we call the ruling class will soon have to face. It is a problem they have never had to face before in the history of capitalism.
Daniel Lazare notes that Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa was not full - although it was hardly a “bust’”, as he asserts (‘End of Donald?’, June 25). What Lazare fails to mention is that anti-Trump forces ran what proved to be a highly effective campaign to obtain tickets for this event with no intention of using them. The Trump campaign will not make this mistake again.
Lazare makes the error, which seems to be endemic in his detractors, of radically underestimating Trump. I find the case that Trump will be brought down by the number of C-19 deaths absurd. Trump supporters will simply deny the figures or deflect the cause away from Trump. The USA is a large country and can ‘politically absorb’ a certain amount of deaths.
It appears that Lazare is still in a state of denial, common on the ‘left’, that Trump is actually the president. According to Lazare, Trump “entered the White House by virtue of a constitutional fluke, despite trailing by two percent in the popular vote”. There certainly is a valid case that the US presidential election should be decided by popular vote and not the electoral college system, but both candidates accepted this and would it even have been mentioned if Clinton had won by a college vote?
However, all this is candy floss. The real question is, will Trump win the 2020 election? Barring something catastrophic, I find it hard to see how he could lose. Trump is very fortunate in some of his friends and certainly in his enemies. The formidable Kayleigh McEnany has her brief ferociously prepared and is well in charge of the Washington press circus - something which The Donald certainly was not at times.
In terms of enemies, with all due respect to Joe Biden, one does not wish to refer to medical conditions, except in that to be president of the USA it might be more appropriate if one was not suffering from some kind of dementia. Biden seems to be at the stage that Reagan was at the end of his presidency, before he has even started the job.
Much of the opposition to Trump comes from a disparate bloc of the snowflake, identity politics, regressive left, antifa thugs and ‘progressive’ epigones, which has turned out to be a powerful cross-class force, even incorporating - or rather being incorporated by - the likes of Amazon and Alphabet. Trump is easily able to dismiss this swamp as not ‘real Americans’. At the moment of writing, the monument to the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the second African-American regiment, has been extensively damaged, making one wonder just who these people are. I note also that the statue of Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery has twice been desecrated, making me wonder why, with all the Marxists in London, the perpetrators - black or white, left or right - have not been acquainted with the business end of an aluminium baseball bat.
Anand Pillay asserts that the Black Lives Matter outfit is “basically a one-issue movement. around the oppression of black people ...” (Letters, July 2). In fact the BLM website states: “BLM’s #WhatMatters2020 will focus on issues concerning racial injustice, police brutality, criminal justice reform, black immigration, economic injustice, LGBTQIA+ and human rights, environmental injustice, access to healthcare, access to quality education, and voting rights and suppression. This initiative will inspire and motivate people to ask themselves and their candidates, are you really addressing What Matters in 2020?” Which is hardly a one-issue campaign. Note the mention of ‘their candidates’ which will become relevant forthwith.
What about BLM though? Surely Trump will take a big hit from this ‘new movement’? ‘Follow the money’ is always good advice and it will be noticed that when the ‘donate’ button is hit on the BLM site, it reverts to a different site - ActBlue, which actually takes the money. It appears that these funds then go to a Thousand Currents - a grouping involved with climate change, alternative economies and food sovereignty. Little of the money appears to go directly to BLM.
Not so much a single issue as a political party and there is widespread belief that BLM is a money-laundering operation for the Democratic Party. How radical. Also on this see the comprehensive series of videos by non-profit expert Susan Woods, entitled ‘Where is the money?’, which concentrates on the BLM ‘chapters’ in the USA - most of them seeming, at the very least, to lack any financial transparency. This is important, as, according to the BLM site, “affiliated chapters may apply for unrestricted grant funding of up to $500,000 in multi-year grants”. Hardly peanuts.
Despite Pillay’s attempt to portray BLM as the real deal, when all the rhetoric and violence is stripped away, it is clear that the thing is a shill for the Democrats. Apologies in advance for chucking cold water on the possibility of Trump not renewing his presidency later this year, but it is well overdue that we deal with things as they are and not as one would like them to be.
Race and class
I was surprised and glad to read Mike Belbin’s informative, supportive ‘Awakening’ letter (June 18). His reference to Leviticus is the first time I’ve ever seen a pointer to overt racism in the holy Bible! Not that I’ve read any religious texts much since leaving school, but I can now hardly wait to wave this snippet at each black church-goer known to me. As a left-leaning black Londoner born and bred, I appreciate this and the various historical references MB has made.
I also agree the taking down of Bristol’s Colston statue is an awakening catalyst, and the ensuing debate around these vainglorious commemorative threats and insults in bronze, iron and/or stone has awakened urban communities as to whose loyalties lie where.
BLM may well be the currently important, urgent movement. It should not be just the new campaign flavour of the month. The Weekly Worker should include more race and class reportage generally, in order to encourage young, black and female potential readers. Please do endeavour to improve on the paper’s reputation of ‘preaching to the converted’ exclusivity.
Maren Clarke goes from one ball of confusion to another, and in doing so only exposes how little she has read or understood of Marx (Letters, July 2). To be fair, many of the points she comes back with were dealt with in my initial response, but were cut out by the editor.
So, let’s try again. On the point about “questions”, Maren should read the Communist manifesto: “In all these movements, [communists] bring to the front, as the leading question in each, the property question, no matter what its degree of development at the time.” Does she think Marx and Engels did not know the answer to this question, which they said, as I do, has to be raised in front of the workers?
I showed that for Marx both cooperatives and joint stock companies represent socialised capital, and socialised capital, according to Marx, is the collective property of the “associated producers”. But for Clarke it is only the permission of the bourgeoisie that signifies ownership. She says that I conflate cooperatives and joint stock companies. Yes, I do, as did Marx: “The capitalist stock companies, as much as the cooperative factories, should be considered as transitional forms from the capitalist mode of production to the associated one ...” (Capital Vol 3, chapter 27).
To get round this she now claims that Engels and Kautsky made this up! That must be the most desperate excuse for a response I have seen. The trouble is that the whole argument that Marx makes, of which this is part, arrives at that conclusion. Indeed, as Lenin says, Marx does not make predictions about the future: he only describes the reality, as it exists and is unfolding, consistent with his materialism and scientific method. The statement about the inevitability of socialism is premised on precisely this fact that socialised capital had come into existence and was continuing to unfold. And, then there is Anti-Dühring, where this same argument is made, and which Marx himself not only proof-read, but wrote much of the economic content.
She says: “Workers have as much right to own a company quoted on the stock exchange as they do a privately owned business.” No, they don’t, and this is precisely the point made by Marx about such joint stock companies. Workers, individually, like anyone else have a right to own shares, but not the company: ie, its productive capital. That is owned by the company itself as a legal entity, which, as Marx says, can only logically mean the associated producers within it. The ownership of shares is not the ownership of the company, as Kay and Silberston set out in their Corporate governance.
Quite right. I believe that shareholders are merely parasites, and that is what Marx and Engels say also. Mere coupon-clippers, who, as Marx says, have lost all social function, in the same way that the landlord lost social function when capitalist farmers arose. But Maren seems to want to be a great champion of such parasites and to fight ardently in their corner to preserve their rights of control and exploitation.
As for cooperatives not sacking workers: sheer fantasy; and, as for workers employed by corporations being paid wages, what does she think workers employed by a cooperative are paid? It’s precisely Marx’s point that these are still capitalist; that they are transitional forms, not socialist forms.
Maren’s answer to the question of why workers would want to hand control over their property to the capitalist state is bizarre. She says because other workers would then also demand it. But why would any workers want to do that? Her argument is like saying workers will want to be whipped, so that other workers will see it and also want to be! Well, that might work if you are into S&M, but it’s a rather bizarre argument to make.
Maren then makes another false statement, saying that people who lend money to corporations get to appoint the managers, get a vote and a share of profits, and so on. No, they don’t. A bank that lends money to a corporation, a person who lends money to a corporation in exchange for a bond, a person who lends money in the form of property, such as a landlord, does not get any of those things. They get interest, the price of the use-value of the money-capital, or else, in the case of the landlord, rent. It’s only shareholders who peculiarly have appropriated that right, which, as Kay and Silberston show, has no foundation, thereby confirming what Marx had said long ago. Whether Maren wants to also congratulate Marx for having the bourgeoisie agree with him I don’t know.
In reference to managers, cooperatives also have them, elected by the rest of the workers, and the job of those managers is to maximise profits, and the production of surplus value. As Lenin says, that continues in a workers’ state too.
Maren also doesn’t deal with the point about control by society, simply dismissing it as a technical issue. But it is those technical issues that are the bread and butter of control on a day-to-day basis, and can only be taken by the workers directly involved. But then Maren lets the mask slip and admits that, of course, it will not be society that decides, but some bureaucratic elite, in just the same way that she wants the workers to hand over control of their property to the capitalist state.
We have seen what happens when this bureaucratic state elite makes those decisions, and they conflict with the wishes of the workers involved. It didn’t turn out well for workers, and has damaged the name of socialism ever since.