Can I start off by congratulating the CPGB (PCC) and their co-thinkers in Labour Party Marxists for being able to hold a Communist University in the current pandemic situation, and hope that they can in future perhaps reach a wider audience by evolving the event to one that exists both in physical and cyber space in years to come - I’m sure it saves Lars T Lih and other international participants a long flight for starters! Whilst I wasn’t able to join in, the chance to watch the sessions on YouTube was a treat!
However, one session from Jack Conrad on the origin of the CPGB threw up a contradiction that I rather hope will see further debate - not around 1920, but 2020! Leading members of the PCC came up with the following three points. Firstly, Peter Manson voiced a rejection of the idea that the CPGB (PCC) become a recruiting organisation, as that path apparently leads to becoming a sect - surely there is more to being a sect than a desire to grow? Secondly Mike Macnair bemoaned the organisation not having the forces to intervene more on the left, and finally Jack Conrad made the point that the aim and orientation of the Weekly Worker is to win the vanguard.
Between these three points I can’t help but see that there is an elephant in the room - doesn’t winning the vanguard entail winning new members to that vanguard? And in fact having an orientation to both the existing vanguard and recruiting potential members of it would be a much more successful field to plough. Delivering hopefully extra forces to deploy in the campaign for the party, interventions in the Labour Party and so on, with comrades coming into the vanguard with a partyist position - imagine the potential that would have. We are very much at the moment under the leadership across the sects that we might call the ‘children of 68’ - comrades whose political outlook was forged in the events of Paris, Czechoslovakia and the subsequent repercussions.
There is a younger generation out there drowning in the trap of identity politics, cancel culture, environmentalist doomsday-mongering and the failure of Corbyn, and it is about to live through not just a pandemic, but the economic depression caused by it. Is the best the vanguard is able to offer the small slice of them who may be winnable to communist ideas the Socialist Workers Party, Communist Party of Britain, Socialist Party in England and Wales, etc? Perhaps it is time to incorporate into the ‘winning the vanguard’ formula the need to add to its numbers some members who are on our side from the start of their political life! They would thus skip the stage where they get a headful of SPEW that needs to be overcome.
I acknowledge Jack was just making a short comment, but it was one that left the impression that all that was needed was to win the vanguard, and that is all the Bolsheviks did, but surely they would never have become what they were if all they did was argue with the Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks - and the revolution sprang forth from an incestuous group of activists, insulting, sometimes ignoring and at their best debating the issues.
I’d suggest that you don’t need to study Marxism with a microscope to conclude that the factions of the Russian left pre-1917 were orientated - yes - towards each other, but also had an orientation towards the rest of population.
In a letter to the Weekly Worker, one Oliver Healey boldly challenged the readers to question one of the “shibboleths” of Marxism: namely the proposition that, in order to overcome capitalism, the first step for the working class towards socialism must be the forcible expropriation of capitalist property and its conversion into public property (August 13).
Healey’s challenge should be welcomed, as the question of a nationalised economy and central planning are often neglected by leftwing groups. Such reluctance to thoroughly address the concrete need for an economy based on publicly owned means of production and central planning betrays a general tendency of the left away from socialism to reactionary utopias about small ownership, localised industry, decentralised co-ops, ‘full ownership of the product of labour’, etc. No doubt such sentiments have stemmed from the long-time abandonment of the socialist project for a nationalised economy - itself a result both of the pitfalls of bureaucratic central planning, as well as the ideological assault on anything ‘collectivist’ that proliferated in the late cold war.
Healey openly identifies as a paleo-libertarian - a political trend in free-market fundamentalism that synthesises the cultural and racial chauvinism of the rightwing ‘paleoconservative’ movement with the ultra-libertarian, free-market solution to the social question promoted by Murray Rothbard. Readers of the Weekly Worker are likely to be a little perplexed to find a paleo-libertarian polemic on an openly communist forum. But for those who are familiar with the curious political trajectory of Rothbard, Healey’s appeal to the far left will make sense.
One of the foremost representatives of the market-fundamentalist Austrian School, Rothbard distinguished himself in his advocacy of radical populist politics as the means to overthrow the status quo, which he believed was the fundamental obstacle to a radical free-market programme. Throughout the 1960s, he openly courted the ‘new left’. Finding common ground on issues such as opposition to the Vietnam war, Rothbard saw promise in the new left as a vehicle for free-market libertarianism, because, unlike the old left, it was born of a generation increasingly sceptical of all that was big, centralised, ‘hierarchical’ or ‘totalitarian’. As the influence of the Communist Party waned, and in light of the failure of the Trotskyists to build a viable alternative to Stalinism, much of the new left was moving toward ‘libertarian left’ positions that placed primary value on unrestricted freedom - even (and often especially) against working class politics.
Rothbard delighted in this new, libertarian trend on the left, and exploited it to the utmost. He wrote many articles and even organised a journal, Left and Right, which sought to highlight the convergence of new leftism with radical, free-market economics. Of course, the ‘left Rothbardians’ were later disappointed by his conversion back to the open far right. By the 1980s, Rothbard had made common cause with the likes of Pat Buchanan and other far-right ‘paleos’ who saw in his economic ideas a complement to their own reactionary ideology.
What all of this means is that the left needs to take seriously the kind of ‘anti-capitalism’ it seeks to achieve, because not all of it is good or legitimate. As we have seen, the bourgeois right has often appealed to the part of the left (‘new school’, ‘new left’) that harbours phobias about ‘centralisation’, ‘regulation’, elections and even democracy in order to wean them from working class politics to the programme of free-market capitalism. This is done by making a reactionary utopia out of economic decentralisation, appealing to petty bourgeois illusions about small business and appropriating Marxist critiques of monopoly capitalism for demagogic opposition to everything ‘big’ (big business, as well as ‘big’ labour). In other words, the free-market right seeks to win the left to an anti-capitalism that opposes all of those aspects - concentration of capital, growth of planning - that Marxism argues is progressive about capitalism, as it lays down the infrastructure of a socialised economy.
In fairness to Healey, there is a kernel of truth to what he says, and that is that there can be no fundamental transition away from capitalism without the expropriation of the banks and some sort of democratic control over banking and monetary policy. The leading role of finance capital in the modern economy is one of the basic theories in Lenin’s Imperialism. But here again we must distinguish exactly what we mean by democracy. Without doubt, the kind of ‘democracy’ that the paleo-libertarian Healey advocates will be of the ‘above class’ kind - perhaps an economic house of representatives, open ‘equally’ to workers and capitalists. Lenin advocated that the unions of proletarian (and semi-proletarian) bank employees should take over the banks and operate them under the guidance of the Soviet Republic. But I doubt Healey will want to appropriate this part of Lenin’s solution!
And, if Healey is so opposed to nationalisation of the means of production, we can likely expect that it will not be a democracy that penetrates into the ‘forbidden’ zone of relations of production. In fact, Healey (likely intentionally) avoids any discussion about how nationalisation would differ in a bourgeois, as opposed to a proletarian, state; or the difference between technocratic, as opposed to workers’ democratic, administration of public property. Given his paleo-libertarianism, his desire to single out “big banks” as the fundamental ill of capitalism serves to distract from the equally reactionary character of the industrial and entrepreneurial bourgeoisie, and places the blame on a “cabal” of bankers. This should raise the eyebrows of the Weekly Worker and all class-conscious comrades.
There is no third way between capitalism and communism. And there is no development towards communism except through public ownership of all large and medium-sized industries (and not just the ‘commanding heights’). Socialism differs from capitalism through the planned and rationalised conduct of industry, which destroys all market anarchy. To desire a return to economic decentralisation, small enterprise and laissez-faire economics is at best illusory. At its worst it is the seed of rightwing populism.
The reactionary ‘anti-capitalism’ of Healey should serve as a warning and a reminder to the proletarian left that a Trojan horse hides behind all talk of rejecting the communist programme of socialising industry.
Loans to myself
Oliver Healy writes at length about equality of opportunity and says that in higher education it is “simply a pointless exercise” (Letters, July 23). He welcomes responses on the question, “Is it time to lay equal opportunities to rest in the graveyard of ideas?”
Equality of opportunity is not the case put by socialists for socialism, which is the emancipation of the working class and the end of class society. This is more far-reaching. Notable introductory texts on this would be Principles of communism and socialism: utopian and scientific by Friedrich Engels.
As for Healy’s letter (August 13) condemning private banking as creating new money, if it were true, then I would set up my own bank and issue unlimited loans to myself. But it is not true and economic crises were just as regular, if not worse, prior to fiat money. Socialists are familiar with Hayek and Friedman, and Healy should familiarise himself with economic criticisms of the free market and its proponents. Professor David Harvey is the most popular and modern writer and speaker on the subject.
Jon D White
Anyone but Trump?
Readers will no doubt already be aware of the excitement generated by the Democrat and Republican conventions in the US. There has been much comment in the British as well as the American media, not least online. Much of the mainstream media, while rightly viewing the Trumpfest as a horror show, also largely confine themselves to Trump-horror clickbait, with the clear message of ‘Anyone but Trump!’ Patrick Cockburn summed up the reality: “The Republican convention was a nauseating performance even by the cess-pit standards of the Trump administration” (Counterpunch August 31).
This leaves some, but not much, interest in the bizarre line-up of speakers at the Biden-Harris-fest. Colin Powell? The man who gave Bush some ‘left’ cover for the invasion of Iraq, with his ‘aluminium nuclear rods’ and other assorted nonsense, not to mention his role in the original My Lai cover-up. And then there was Michael (stop and frisk) Bloomberg who apparently put $18 million dollars in - and got his spot.
As several online commentators have pointed out, anyone with a hint of socialism - well, OK, ‘progressivism’ - in their politics was told to keep their mouths shut in case they frighten the voters. The voters are, of course, those who have their ID available, along with, preferably, their white skin - and those who can manage the short drive to the voting booth in their affluent neighbourhood.
However, as, for instance, David Sirota asked in a Jacobin article, ‘Why is it always the wrong time to criticise Democrats from the left?’ (August 24). Corporate voices have no such restraints. Biden will be good for business, so don’t worry. Don’t worry about a green new deal (or any other new deal), don’t worry about Medicare for all and don’t worry about foreign policy - the money for arms will keep rolling in. As Sirota points out, this might keep the multi-million-dollar donations pouring in, but doesn’t exactly energise the base - some of whom might be able, but now unwilling, to vote.
A long-running debate on ‘lesser-evilism’ is reaching new heights with this year’s election. It’s either Biden or Trump! Or Kanye West? And who would want Biden? Trump tells us he’s a socialist. It could be a tricky one: Trump is obviously a very nasty fellow, but then so is Biden. The Democrats do have a few rumblings from below that may bear fruit (one day?).
Some have no doubt. The Financial Times opines on the two conventions: “It is hard to imagine a starker contrast” (August 29). Trump’s speech was “littered with character attacks”, while Biden’s message was “focussed on his middle class credentials”. Politics? Well, “Mr Biden urgently needs to find an opportunity to imprint on voters his commitment to law and order”. This ‘imprinting’ sounds a bit like what the police are already doing with their boots.
Meanwhile, who will put unemployed Americans back to work? Neither of them. Who will try and protect their fellow countryfolk from climate disaster? Neither of them. Who will start a new war? Either of them.
No doubt Sir Keir has been watching with interest: New Labour has always been keen on what the Democrats are pioneering - what with ‘triangulation’, crime, prison building and neoliberalism. So, don’t worry about rail renationalisation - or any other nationalisation. Don’t worry, the US can have the NHS and if Trump, or Biden, wants to invade somewhere we’ll be along ‘shoulder to shoulder’.
Maybe at the ‘virtual conference’ (sorry, ‘event’) he can get Tony Blair and a few generals along; perhaps even Bill Clinton! Whatever he does though, I’m sure he’ll stand for no trifling with Rule! Britannia on the closing afternoon.
Robert Clough of the Revolutionary Communist Group argues: “The thesis that Labour can become a vehicle for socialism or social progress is as reactionary now as it ever has been. Maintaining this position as the crisis deepens will inevitably force its adherents to cross class lines” (Letters, August 13). How very revolutionary! Clough’s view represents unadulterated sectarianism and dogmatism, which explains why the RCG has remained a small sect with no influence in the working class.
The first thing to point out is that the Labour Party introduced the national health service - which, by the way, is a socialist measure. This clearly suggests that under certain conditions Labour can easily become a vehicle for social progress and even socialism. Clough’s reference to a deepening crisis is meaningless, since he and the RCG, together with most of the radical left, has not yet grasped what is driving the present crisis.
I would suggest that those who do not know what is behind the present crisis take a look around the streets. You will see that the authorities are quietly introducing electric chargers for cars in preparation for the coming energy crisis. They can’t talk about this openly for fear of triggering a stock market crash and panic, but they are silently preparing for it.
The important question is, when the energy crisis strikes, what type of opposition, if any, would the Labour Party meet from the capitalist class? The answer to this question depends on how you understand the present crisis of capitalism. Marxism, a doctrine developed in the 19th century, is now playing a significant role in preventing the radical left from understanding that the question of energy is the content of the present crisis. No surprise here, since in his critique of political economy Marx made the same mistake as the classical political economists: ie, he mostly ignored the role of non-renewable energy in the rise of modern society. So now the radical left doesn’t realise that the ruling class can abandon capitalism because of an energy crisis.
I refer to this as the ‘Abandon Ship theory’. This simply states that, barring nuclear war, the coming energy crisis will force the ruling class to begin the process of abandoning capitalism, in the same way that people abandon a sinking ship which cannot be saved.
The declining oil production, which follows peak oil, will lead to rising oil prices, which in turn will progressively undermine capitalist profits. In order to avert the collapse of the economy the governments will have to intervene and nationalise the major sectors of the economy in the interest of national survival. An example of this was seen when the US government bought out General Motors in 2008 to stave off collapse. Time Magazine had a front page with president Bush in a Mao suit and cap, without realising that they were predicting what an energy crisis will force the ruling class to do.
The theory that, barring a nuclear war, the coming energy crisis will force the ruling class to abandon ship and move over - initially to state capitalism - means that in Britain the Labour Party will have an important role to play. Even the ruling class can’t continue to insist on traditional capitalism if it simply doesn’t work. State capitalism will not work either. That, in essence, is the meaning of the energy crisis, which opens the door to socialism.
Since the Abandon Ship theory argues that, barring a nuclear war, the coming energy crisis will force the ruling class to nationalise the economy, the role of the left and the Labour Party is obvious. It is to argue the case for production for need rather than profit - an argument which cannot be denied because it is collapsing profits which will lead to nationalisation in the first place. The other role of the left is to fight against the establishment of bureaucratic socialism because bureaucracy is a tendency inherent in modern societies. The agenda of the left must be for a democratic socialist society.
According to housing charity, Shelter, a total of 290,000 renters have been warned by their landlord that they are facing eviction, due to Covid-19 rent arrears.
The Covid evictions crisis shows up the problem of relying on the private rental market. A democratic socialist party would endeavour to put all private landlords out of business by bringing back rent controls and rent control officers. Such a policy would include all ‘buy to let’ landlords - who are not really landlords at all, but just a cash-cow for the banks via interest-only mortgages.
The huge expansion of ‘buy to let’ landlordism took place under New Labour and could have been prevented if Gordon Brown had abolished mortgage interest tax relief for landlords. Interestingly, a high proportion of Tory Party members, activists and councillors are ‘buy to let’ landlords. Such landlordism is one of the main reasons why home ownership amongst the young has been falling for the last 25 years.
At the same time, a democratic socialist party would build one million new council houses and flats every year, for the next five years. This would allow young couples to live in council housing, whilst they saved up the deposit to buy their first home.