Then and now
I cannot think of any other paper of the left that would dare publish an article critical of one of their leading theorists to the extent the Weekly Worker continually does. I’m thinking in particular of Levi Rafael’s ‘An ideal state’ (July 30).
Recent issues have also published letters/articles criticising the stances of leading members at your aggregates. This is what accountability looks like and you do not see anything anywhere near this in The Socialist, Socialist Worker or the Morning Star - to name just three other publications that claim to be socialist, but act in a Stalinist, censorious fashion and always hide major internal disagreements and power struggles. If all sects and their papers had the transparency and accountability regularly shown by the Weekly Worker, the revolutionary left would be much larger and healthier today.
Mike Macnair comes in for a lot of criticism by Levi Rafael. As I left school at 16 and went straight into work, I do not have the academic knowledge of Marxism to judge whether Levi or Mike most correctly theorise/interpret Marx, and the application of his method by Lenin or Trotsky; or whether the praise and criticisms of Karl Kautsky seen in recent issues of the Weekly Worker are correct and what we should take and apply today from the aforementioned.
The problem with academics endlessly arguing over what Marx really said or meant - or, worse, what he would have said about today’s world - is that each academic (and sect leader) can seemingly find any quote from Marx, Lenin or Trotsky to support their particular argument. This is then ‘refuted’, with further quotes selected to support an opposite interpretation! The vast majority of us on the left, who have not the paid vocation (or time) to read all the works of these revolutionaries writing over 100 years ago, cannot really judge who is right about who said what when, and what they really meant or would say today in very different circumstances.
I find much of what Levi says, in support of workers’ soviets - as a counter to Mike Macnair’s advocacy of “the fullest republican democracy”, should there be a socialist revolution today - to be pure assertion. A lot of what he argues seems to be what he thinks would happen, based on claims about who was involved in the factory committees before and following the 1917 Russian Revolution.
Macnair had said that relying on factory committees would exclude pensioners, the incapacitated, the unemployed and housewives. Levi counters that in a socialist society there wouldn’t be housewives or unemployed, because of how a future socialist society would be run. He mentions the building of mikrorayon in soviet-type states - new housing blocks built facilitating the socialisation of child-rearing, washing, cooking, etc as evidence. However, how widespread was this in reality, as opposed to what was intended? Asserting how many groups of workers of different occupations (and some managerial grades) would actually have a voice in their factory committees/soviets seems like guesswork. In reality, did all these groups really participate? Levi majors on Yugoslavia and how it was structured, but this does not mean a future socialist society would use that model (and most of us know little about it anyway - you cannot replicate what you do not know).
Levi makes no mention of where Communist Party members fitted (and would fit today) into all this - with their privileges (back then) over non-party members. He argues there was and would need to be a centralised structure, into which all the local factory committees/soviets feed, while subject to their national decisions, and I have no strong disagreement with that. But again much of what Levi argues is assertion for the future and he is in no situation to tell us all what representative structures there would actually be, come the revolution. Mike will, of course, argue back and explain further his concept of what he means by “the maximum republican democracy” he thinks necessary for today in answer to Levi’s criticisms. But, whatever Mike says, that will also still be his personal take of the situation back then and what he thinks we’d need today. He cannot say either what future structures will be. That will be down to the decisions of the victorious working class.
A major feature of various social movements today is that they are non-party, without any programme, democratic structures or elected, accountable officials, so these movements flare up, then die out, as Levi mentions. Those active in unions/parties/movements know there is huge suspicion of vertical structures and leaders today amongst most of the young, based on what they have read about various so-called communist parties and revolutions, the dictators who ran the so-called socialist states, the suppression of dissent by imprisonment, execution, the lack of free elections. Look at Hong Kong versus China! They also see various sects/parties dominated by people who have held that position for decades (and who split and set up a new group if their control is seriously challenged).
If the working class will really run the future socialist society after the overthrow of capitalism, why weren’t there hundreds of activists of the calibre of Lenin and Trotsky? (There seemed to be no shortage of murdering despots like Stalin who ended up in control.) As for Lenin’s statement that the socialist culture will be that of debate, debate, debate, until the issues have been thrashed out to a clear majority position, did this really happen under Lenin or was it endless debate until everyone caved in to him? In most revolutionary sects the inner cabal decide the line which the rest are to follow.
In the Socialist Workers Party the membership cannot realistically depose the central committee unless they can find 30 comrades prepared to stand against the elite, and opposition to any party papers presented to annual conference isn’t even asked for. I know, as I have attended a couple of their stage-managed conferences in the past. In trade unions, left groups sort out their line before the conference debates the issues and that pre-decided line takes no account of arguments raised at conference that had not been anticipated. Is this how it was in Russia post-1917?
Given the cancel culture and no-platforming practices of most of today’s left, will ordinary working class people really be able to speak up at their factory committee/soviet if their view differs from that of the party’s elite? Will party members enjoy better access to the dominating higher committees with the real power than non-party members? Most working class people do not want to dominate committees or have their views imposed ruthlessly on others. Most don’t want to read the collected works of Marx, Trotsky or Lenin either - or Kautsky, Mao or Stalin. Most working class people are not educated in confident public speaking, unlike those taught at Eton, etc. How do you hold leading comrades to account or challenge them, or influence party policy, if you do not have the confidence to speak up?
I was branch secretary (and an open socialist) of the largest and most active PCS union branch in the ministry of justice for 35 years until my retirement in November 2018. Not once was I ever opposed for that position in all that time - despite making sure all members knew how to get nominated for the branch AGM.
There could be three reasons for this: (1) my leadership was continually supported and appreciated; (2) no-one had the confidence to take on the role, even if they were unhappy with how I performed; or - the most likely - (3) there was sheer apathy: they were just glad someone else was willing to do the job. This is typical in most unions, but wasn’t it also the case in Russia after the October 1917 revolution? We never hear how contested any elections for the central committee - or factory committees - in revolutionary Russia were.
In PCS two factions have absolutely dominated the executive since the union’s creation in 1999 - Left Unity and the PCS Democrats, which have formed an electoral pact every year. No independent socialist has ever got on the NEC. Is this how it is in elections in socialist states? You cannot allow free elections because of the fear of counterrevolution or capitalist outside interference, until socialism is a world system?
That capitalism is evil and murderous is now widely accepted. That it cannot provide decent wages, secure housing, full employment and protection against climate change is evident to most, but we’ve seen the failure of the Russian Revolution and what so-called ‘communist’ dictatorship regimes are like. It is much harder now to convince people to take the risk of a revolution, where they will face a likely murderous counterrevolution and have leaders that are not trusted.
It looks now that working class people have been sweet-talked into a revolutionary nirvana that never happened, with huge mistakes and misjudgements (however understandably in the circumstances) made by those in commanding positions urging them to action, who would not listen to the opposition. Capitalism has resulted in the slaughter of millions - continuing, of course, to this day. But so has ‘communism’, as people have seen to date.
The much exalted huge membership increase in the Labour Party under Corbyn that supposedly pulled Labour to the left has now elected Sir Keir Starmer as party leader, rather than a Corbyn continuity candidate. The pursuit of identity politics (with the ready agreement of the establishment) by parties and unions, instead of class politics, is dividing everyone and paving the way for more rightwing populism and support for authoritarian rule, while today’s left is driving the working class away in droves. We are lucky a charismatic far-right leader in touch with the hacked-off working class has not yet emerged.
Most of today’s left hector and condemn the working class rather than spend time convincing them. There is so much untapped working class anger out there, yet most of the left is contemptuous of them, is more divided than ever and is totally out of touch with them.
Trade unions have long sacrificed united action (or even sole union national action) against austerity and pay freezes, and sound more like student unions now, with their constant pushing of PC orthodoxy. No wonder union membership is declining despite the massive expansion of the UK workforce (and even though we look set to see mass Covid job losses). The revolutionary left should be growing hugely, but the far right looks more likely to do so - wait for a party to emerge that gives them an electoral focus and they will grow very quickly.
As the Weekly Worker has correctly argued, there will be no return to Corbynism or a left in control in the Labour Party any time soon. We need a new workers’ party, with MPs on a workers’ wage, a socialist programme and selection by constituencies - not imposition by party HQ - if we cannot get a Communist Party heading a united left, as the Weekly Worker continually advocates.
There’s quite a fund building up for Jeremy Corbyn’s belated attack on the witch-hunt - sorry, belated defence from the witch-hunt. I would guess that he’ll need it in his battle for British justice: it was said in the Weekly Worker a few weeks ago that bourgeois democracy was an oxymoron. I think that we can confidently assert that bourgeois justice shares this description perfectly.
There’s a strange story in the Morning Star of July 28 - ‘Communists’ terror conviction sparks Munich protest’ - which goes on to say: “Nine men and one woman were handed prison sentences ranging from three years to six-and-a-half years despite appeals that they had not broken any German laws.”
They’ve been convicted for supporting a Turkish organisation which is banned as terrorist in Turkey, but is not illegal anywhere else, including Germany. It is thought that this is ‘German justice’ cuddling up to Turkey. But never in Britain, surely! It does, however, seem a little reminiscent of the UK’s imprisonment of Julian Assange, despite his having served his time for breaching his bail conditions. Cuddling up to the USA, I suppose.
But what of the USA? It would be difficult to try and make a list of US injustices, though many US websites have copious examples: innocent people suffering capital punishment, the supreme court deciding that it’s okay now for racist states to exclude black people from suffrage, children torn from their parents at the border. There’s plenty more, but here’s a recent one I noticed.
On the Intercept site (July 22), Daniel A Medina has a headline: ‘NYPD disappeared Black Lives Matter protestors into detention for days at a time. Lawmakers want to end the practice.’ It opens: “In early June, hundreds of Black Lives Matter protesters languished for days in cramped New York City jail cells. Stuck in holding pens without masks and exposed to soiled conditions amid the coronavirus pandemic, they were unable to reach loved ones or lawyers. The protestors were effectively disappeared into New York City’s detention system.”
It goes on: “In a lawsuit filed against the New York police department, attorneys from Legal Aid, a public defence organisation, alleged that over 400 individuals in city detention facilities had been held for more than 24 hours without seeing a judge, in breach of state law and detainees’ constitutional rights.” This was dismissed by the judge - so much for law and order.
We have a record here in Britain too. In the early 19th century the Luddites, as they were called, were destroying machinery in a vain attempt to hold on to their skilled employment. The government sent thousands of troops to end the rebellion and many were hanged and more transported pour encourager les autres. And it worked. This is not to say that we face this risk in an immediate sense, but just to point out how the ruling class has used ‘justice’ in the past and would no doubt like to use it now.
Meanwhile, however, I see from The Canary that Chris Williamson is going to ‘take on’ the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who have named him in their ‘Labour anti-Semitism’ report. I must admit that I’m reminded of an interview by Jeremy Paxman with Arthur Scargill soon after the end of the 1984-85 miners’ strike. There were accusations that Scargill had used union money to clear his mortgage. He was denying this and Paxman asked, “Well, why don’t you sue?” To which Scargill replied: “But I haven’t got your money, Jeremy”.
That’s something about bourgeois ‘justice’ - it helps if you have money. But, still, nowadays there is crowd funding and both Corbyn and Williamson will, I’m sure, get a good deal of backing - good luck!
Knives and drugs
When discussing knife crime, most of the national media miss the elephant in the room - its link with the distribution of illegal drugs.
Across Britain, police are struggling to combat a surge in knife crime and there are calls for additional funding for community police. With most knife crime related to the sale of illegal drugs, putting extra resources into community policing will have little effect, whilst drugs remain illegal.
It is correct that youth services need to be restored to help prevent young people from being drawn into a life of crime. We need to bring police, teachers, health professionals, youth workers and social services together to prevent young people joining gangs. But this needs to be combined with a policy for the legalisation and regulation of all drugs by the state, so as to take drugs out of the hands of organised crime and county-lines drug gangs. A start could be made immediately by legalising cannabis - as in Canada and 12 states in the USA, including California, Oregon and Colorado.
The tax revenue received from the legalisation of cannabis in Canada and these 12 states has been used to fund public health campaigns aimed at minors. If we are serious about eliminating knife crime, we should be bold and call for the legalisation of all drugs, starting with cannabis.