Andrew Kirkland, in his response to my article, ‘Cowardly fake left peddles lies’ (October 22), suggests that the single-transferable-vote electoral system used in Labour’s national executive elections means that we need “new tactics to win the supporters of the groups behind Grassroots Voice to the politics of Marxism”. Outlining how the new system operates, comrade Kirkland argues that, unlike the ‘first past the post’ system, STV has a key advantage for the left: namely that “standing as a distinct, principled working class candidate will not let the right in. There is no need for horse-trading with organisations that back unprincipled careerist politicians. Joint lists will no longer have a purpose.”
I disagree: joint lists still have an important purpose, both in this and future elections as well. As comrade Kirkland clearly understands, deciding whether to stand candidates for the NEC and trying to secure the maximum vote for principled left campaigners is not simply a matter of electoral arithmetic, but is entirely a matter of politics and the best tactics to advance the cause of the left in the Labour Party.
As these elections have shown, the Labour left remains an inchoate and disorganised current. Any number of groups and individuals appealing for our votes claim to be on the left, but, as we know only too well, many of them will, if elected to the NEC, join with the right and continue the witch-hunt against the left. The central problem we face as Marxists in the Labour Party is how to expose the treachery, careerism and cowardice of this fake left and win over genuine left activists to principled, Marxist politics. This is even more important when we are faced with such an onslaught from the right and even more necessary when the calls for ‘left unity’ to combat these attacks grow ever more insistent.
Andrew is correct when he explains that we cannot ‘split the left vote’ under an STV system, but, as this election has shown, there is still considerable confusion, combined with deliberate misinformation from some supporters of Grassroots Voice, over this issue. Calling for negotiations between the organised Labour left groups for a principled campaign and a joint slate is not political horse-trading. Rather it shows to the mass of Labour Party members that we are serious about defeating the right and maximising the left vote on a principled basis.
If, as was the case this year, important sections of what is fast becoming the ‘official’ licensed Labour left refuse to even talk - much less seriously negotiate - with us, then so be it. In doing so they only expose themselves to honest leftwingers as the careerists and sectarians that they are. Proposing and negotiating a joint list on a principled basis allows Marxists to both put forward our demands and positions before a much wider audience, as well as revealing the weaknesses and collaborationism of the official left. It gains us a hearing amongst sections of the Labour left who still have illusions in ‘broad left’ politics or who are unsure how to fight back against the witch-hunt.
The aim of Labour Party Marxists is to win over a majority of the Labour left to its programme. As a small, but principled current, we disdain to conceal our ideas: we argue consistently for our position within the wider Labour left as an important part of the struggle to build a mass basis for Marxist politics. Far from detracting from that struggle, working with the Labour left in joint campaigns or standing a joint slate in defence of party democracy, freedom of speech and against the witch-hunt only adds to and indeed strengthens it.
Following these NEC elections there undoubtedly will be a post-mortem and a discussion on the left about the successes and failures of the campaign. Many will begin to debate the best strategy and tactics to take the fight to the right, and in the process question how far the politics and tactics of Grassroots Voice can be really effective in winning those battles. In these discussions the issue of joint, principled campaigns and electoral lists will be central - not simply because we put them there, but because for many on the left these will be the most significant issues in the period ahead. In this light, our tactics and calls for a principled joint left list in this NEC election were correct - and will remain correct until such time as we are able to exert a greater influence over the politics and strategy of the wider Labour left.
Labour Party Marxists
Blame NHS too
Jim Nelson says: “It seems that Arthur Bough wants to defend the government from any charges of responsibility for the current pandemic situation” (Letters, November 5).
How he arrives at that conclusion god knows, given that I have throughout attacked the government for its idiotic lockdown, and failure to protect the vulnerable from the virus, which is the only rational response to it. The difference is that I also want to charge with responsibility all those that comprise the medical-industrial complex for their part in this disaster. Jim’s approach is to see the national health service as somehow separate from it. That is like him trying to say that Iain McGregor had no part in the running of the National Coal Board, or for the 1984-85 miners’ strike, or Michael Edwardes no responsibility for British Leyland, or the strikes there, and so on. There is plenty of blame to go around here, and simply blaming the government misses a critique of the nature of state capitalism, and of the NHS as a state-capitalist venture, designed to meet the needs of capital, not workers. It fails even to highlight the lack of democratic, let alone workers’, control in the NHS.
And Jim can try to avoid the fact as much as he likes that the NHS itself has performed abysmally by trying to blame the government, but it does not change that fact. Yes, the government is responsible for the levels of funding, but it’s the NHS that makes operational decisions in how it uses that funding. It was not government ministers that told the NHS to bring back its retired staff - the very age group that comprises the people vulnerable to Covid; it was not the government that told the NHS to knowingly send people with Covid back to care homes, where they then infected tens of thousands more people, many of whom died!
Had the NHS established small, specialist isolation wards, instead of the vast amounts spent on the useless Nightingale hospitals, it could even have concentrated its use of personal protective equipment where it was required, and would also have had no need to have cancelled thousands of routine operations, etc, that has itself put the lives of countless thousands more people at risk. This is all of a par of what has come to be expected of the NHS, and its position within the medical-industrial complex that has perpetually increased the size of bureaucratic empires centred around the large district hospitals. They directly channel billions into the coffers of big pharma, and other medical supply companies, at the expense of primary healthcare and ill-health prevention.
Jim says: “If Hancock wants to take responsibility then why shouldn’t we let him?” Because socialists should be concerned with more than just cheap attacks on governments, and should instead try to explain to workers the inadequacies of capitalism, including state-capitalist institutions like the NHS.
Jim says the people in the NHS have done a better job than the people in private companies. But the people in the NHS did not produce the ventilators, the PPE, the test kits, nor the test-and-trace app. Nor will it be the NHS or local government workers who will produce any vaccine, or other drugs to treat the symptoms. Why Jim wants to divide workers on this basis god only knows. In fact, the record of public-sector bodies producing software is pretty abysmal, as the NHS has witnessed on several occasions.
Jim’s last paragraph is bizarre. On the one hand, he attacks me for saying that the government could look after the vulnerable, claiming that it has no intention of doing so - in which case, we would presumably expect the NHS to disappear overnight - but then points to the CPGB’s manifesto commitment to “a comprehensive, free and democratic health service to meet the needs of everyone”. Well, given that last time I looked there seemed little prospect of a CPGB government, this is either meaningless revolutionary phrase-mongering of the type Marx criticised the Guesdists for, or else it is Jim asking the actual existing Tory government not just to look after the vulnerable, but “everyone”, and also to do it free and democratically! Talk about straining on a gnat, whilst swallowing a camel.
In fact, I didn’t say that the government could look after the vulnerable. I said that a rational strategy for dealing with the virus is to isolate the vulnerable. Given that a large part of that vulnerable population, and certainly of the most vulnerable over 80, are people in care homes, or in hospitals, they are already supposedly being ‘looked after’ by the government in one way or another. All that is being requested is that the government ensure that those charged with that responsibility in the NHS and social care discharge that duty of care properly. Instead, the NHS has infected large numbers of people with the virus who came to it with other illnesses, just as some years ago it infected and killed many such people with the MRSA superbug. It has sent infected people back to care homes and, instead of vulnerable people in those care homes being protected from the virus, they have themselves become killing fields. In these instances this is not a matter even of funding, but of simple common sense and the application of adequate working procedures, and standard operating practices.
For the rest of the people in the ‘vulnerable’ category, they are again, in many cases, also in the care of the state in their own homes, and the same principles apply. The rest of us in that category, and those like me who can simply ensure that we isolate so as not to come into contact with the virus, should be told to do so, so that the whole of society does not need to lock down, and should be supported in achieving that, by ensuring that necessary supplies can be delivered to the door, which again is not hard, because many of us already do that by ordering our shopping online.
Certainly, a demand for such simple support is far more achievable than demanding as the solution the ultimatist demand that Jim plucks from the CPGB’s programme, which essentially requires the socialist revolution tomorrow.
I was somewhat amazed to see Ted Hankin’s letter (November 6). It reads more like a Daily Mail contribution: “… the Weekly Worker refuses to criticise Islam by omission”. Why criticise Islam in particular? There are plenty of religions at least as nonsensical - to the average atheist anyway. People can follow whatever religion they like, as long as they leave the rest of us alone: and they can still join the rest of the working class in taking power.
Of these terrorist immigrants that Ted is worried about, in the case of Charlie Hebdo, two were born in Paris; in the case of the Bataclan, they were mostly French and Belgian, but with two Iraqis; the attack on Samuel Paty was committed by a Russian refugee of Chechen origin; the three in Nice were Tunisian. To keep up to date, the killer recently in Vienna was apparently born there. So it would do little good to keep immigrants out - most of them were already in. If there were only a few Muslims in France then, the police wouldn’t have been able to round up around 200 in 1961, murder them and throw them into the Seine.
Killing innocent people is wrong under any circumstances - though the US with European allies is quite happy for innocent Muslims to die in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon, Iran, Yemen ... One might also note that the people most likely to die from a Muslim terrorist attack are themselves often Muslims.
And where do terrorists come from? Why do they start up? Would the Khmer Rouge have been more than a handful of political folk if the US hadn’t bombed Cambodia? Would Islamic State have existed without the invasion of Iraq? Credit where it is due, Ted.
One might further note that the biggest terrorist attack in Europe recently was that by Anders Breivik in Norway. He was home-grown, but blew up eight people in Oslo and then shot 69 more in a youth camp. In the US Timothy McVeigh killed 168 in Oklahoma City. As far as I’m aware neither of them were Muslim. And what about immigrants? Well, the peoples of Asia, Africa, the Americas and Australasia might feel that they would have been better off without their European immigrants.
There was an interesting TV programme a couple of years ago about the fuss and fatwa over Salman Rushdie’s The satanic verses - a book that was more of a spark than a cause of Muslim disgruntlement. A Muslim chap interviewed people who had got the book-burning going and asked them why they had done it and how they felt now. There were some who still wanted blood, but I got the impression that it was mostly the culmination of years of frustration and anger over the racism that Muslims had experienced - over jobs, housing, education, everything: something that their fellow Muslims in France have plenty of experience of too.
They were also, as I recall, at least second-generation. New immigrants tend to keep their heads down (apart from the European ones mentioned above), but their children and grandchildren have gone to local schools, have local friends and feel that they belong - or at least that they should do.
Ted is also worried that French Muslims can buy knives in the supermarket. We’re lucky not to be in the US, where they can buy machine guns!
According to Wikipedia “France has the largest number of Muslims in the Western world”, with numbers around 5.7 million people - though there are other estimates. There’d be a bit of a job stopping Muslims being in France then. Maybe if they’d had a smaller Muslim empire? There is a lot of anti-Muslim racism in France, as one can tell from the relative electoral success of Marine le Pen and her mob.
It would appear, with his war on Islam, that Emmanuel Macron is trying to get some of those votes, or keep them low, ready for his 2022 presidential election. Still racist, but not quite as racist - he’s probably been watching the Tories. The numbers above do though imply that there might be nearly six million Muslims in France who are not terrorists.
Some people resort to terrorism. This includes blowing up, shooting or stabbing innocent people. It might mean shooting police, as a few have done in the US. The rage and frustration leading to this is often perfectly understandable, but it is still ethically and tactically wrong. It is tactically wrong because you are at least as likely to add to sympathy for the police, or the law, or the government as you are to make a great and meaningful gesture to your fellow sufferers: most people are opposed to terrorism, including Muslims.
The answer is not “stopping the constant inflow of terrorists entering Europe” (shades of the Soros-funded caravan of murderers and drug-dealers invading the US?), but the voluntary assimilation of immigrants in a free flow of human beings to and from anywhere they like in the world. With a few extras like democratic and trade union rights.
Mike Macnair has clarified his political stance and answered my question as to what it means in the last of his replies to Neil Faulkner (‘Break with managerialism’, October 29) and in his reply to me (Letters, November 5).
His series of articles forthrightly embrace the politics of the Second International and reject the Third, arguing they are essentially the same theoretically and ideologically, and that the final failure of the methodology of the Russian Revolution (a badly built bridge, he tells us) was essentially down to the errors of Lenin and Trotsky in not following the teachings of Karl Kautsky.
Like Kautsky, Mike’s analyses are objectivist to the core. We could not have had a socialist revolution after World War II because the time was not right for it, the mass murder of the revolutionary Trotskyists by the collaboration between the Nazis, imperialists and Stalinists had nothing to do with these defeats. History would have found a way irrespective of a dead leadership!
Instead we must revert to the mechanical objectivism of the Second International, with no need to link the everyday struggle for reforms in wages and conditions with the ultimate aim of overthrowing capitalism. A minimum programme will do fine, as distinct from a ‘minimal’ one of only reforming capitalism, and no need at all to bother with a maximum programme: it would come along when the time was ripe and present itself to us on a plate.
And the betrayal of German Social Democratic Party on August 4 1914 was not so bad, because the best elements of the SPD went on to provide “the cadre and leadership of the German communist movement”. And they then led the German socialist revolution to victory, did they? No, as Trotsky tells us in The first five years of the Communist International, when the hour for revolution struck in 1923, it resulted wholly from “a failure of tactics and not in objective conditions”.
That central problem for Marxism was unsolved - between the subject and the object: when objective conditions for revolution struck in mid-1923, the Kautsky-educated KPD revolutionaries failed, whereas on October 7 1917 - exactly 103 years ago, as I write this - the Lenin educated-in-dialectical-materialism Bolsheviks succeeded, despite strong opposition from Kamenev and Zinoviev and no assistance from Stalin. And only Lenin could have won that crucial battle in the central committee, Trotsky strongly assisted, but alone he lacked the authority because of his history of anti-Bolshevism. Had the Provisional government succeeded in assassinating Lenin after the July days of 1917, as they attempted, then the Russian Revolution would have been lost. How’s that for a “great man theory” of history? Only it isn’t a great man theory; it’s a ‘great revolutionary person, leading a great revolutionary party’ theory of socialist revolution.
Mike writes: “It involves open recognition that the decisions of 1919-21 were actually mistakes, and ones to which Lenin and Trotsky were parties. And it involves aspiring to the Second International in its strongest aspects, which is also the Bolsheviks of 1917 and the early Third International, not to repeating the same mistakes and thereby copying bureaucratic managerialism” (‘Break with managerialism’). So, the first four (or three?) congresses of the Comintern were mistakes and we must go back to Kautsky and Bebel to find a way forward today.
As the Good Friday/Belfast agreement emerges onto the agenda once more - and we note the crass anti-Irish racism with which Dominic Raab and other Tories have been emphasising the alleged Irish communalism of Joe Biden’s approach to Boris Johnson’s threats to that agreement - it is time to review again the issue of democratic rights in Northern Ireland. The Johnson government boasts of breaking ‘international law’ (on which the Tories set great store when it suits them) in order to oppress the people of the Six Counties - and indeed of Ireland as a whole - regarding all the people of the island of Ireland as cat’s paws of the EU bureaucracy.
The people of Northern Ireland still suffer from their inability to cast meaningful votes for or against the Westminster government, which takes the vast majority of strategic decisions for them. James Harvey claims that the poor achievements of the Northern Ireland Labour Party between 1920 and its death in 1970 imply that full members of the Labour Party should not be permitted to contest elections for public office, as it is impossible that they could attract more electoral support than the - purely provincial - NILP (‘Politics of two borders’, October 15). But even in its present lamentable state, Labour has far greater prospects of governmental office than the NILP - confined to the Six Counties as it was by Labour’s ongoing boycott.
If the Northern Ireland working class is doomed to be betrayed by UK Labour governments, is it not their right to go through that experience - together with the working class throughout Great Britain - rather than by the communalist parties which ‘constitutionally’ dominate politics there?
The CPGB rightly sets great store on the most extreme democracy - and on exposing the way the Labour Party functions as a subordinate wing of the British state. Yet James Harvey seems determined not to put two and two together and support the right of Labour Party members in the Six Counties to engage in electoral struggle, just as working class Labour Party members do in Great Britain.
Anti-socialist campaigner David Icke is quite good when it comes to exposing the elite, but unfortunately the downside is that Icke wasn’t blessed with any political sense. In Remember who you are he claimed that politics was irrelevant, so what is he doing speaking to political rallies against the lockdown today?
In addition, in previous books and in his most recent, he calls for a peaceful revolution against our own enslavement. But how does this stand with Icke’s previous view that politics is irrelevant, when there is nothing more political than a revolution. Has he changed his mind about this alleged irrelevancy?
Another point here is that Icke is incapable of giving any indication of the type of revolution he is calling for. That is to say that his revolution has no social content or agenda. Every revolution has a social class content and agenda - that is, as long as we live in a class society - so the big question is: what is the social class content of the revolution which Icke is calling for?
The right represents counterrevolution, while the left represents revolution, regardless of its flaws. If Icke is opposed to the left, which his writings suggest, it means logic must push him to side with the counterrevolutionary elements in society against the left. I tested this out recently by going to his website, knowing beforehand that Ickeism would come out in favour of Trump against Biden. Icke can pretend that he is neither right nor left. However, it is not what people say, but what they do, which identifies them.
To understand the political logic contained within Ickeism is quite simple. Since Icke is opposed to the left, and is opposed to socialism (this is a reflection of his class interest as a small businessman), and since he defends capitalism (which he pretends no longer exists and has been replaced by cartels), he must join with those forces which defend capitalism, backwardness, racism and in particular anti-Semitism. This is why Ickeism is going on about counting legal votes, thus echoing Trump. His defence of Trump is a clear sign of the counterrevolutionary nature of Ickeism.
Icke defends class society against communism, so why is he exposing the elite? The answer is that he is exposing the elite not because he is opposed to capitalism: he is merely opposed to the Jewish influence within capitalism. At the political level Ickeism is simply old-fashioned anti-Semitism dressed up in a new garb. Ickeism is a politically reactionary trend, regardless of his exposure of the elite. Because he does that it doesn’t mean he is progressive or revolutionary. Both Mussolini and Hitler denounced the traditional elites.
Away from politics, Icke does make more sense. For instance, we do appear to live in some sort of time loop, or loops. With this in mind I decided to look back in history to see if an Icke has appeared before. The person I came upon was Father Gapon, who led the mass demonstration which triggered the first Russian revolution in 1905, and which Lenin called a dress rehearsal for 1917. What surprised me even more is that Gapon denounced the Russian royal family as reptilians (see Orlando Figes A people’s tragedy p178). It seems that Gapon may have had some sort of knowledge of the ancient origins of these bloodlines. If not, why would he write about the tsar, “Be thou damned with all thine august reptilian progeny”?
The most important difference I found between Gapon and Icke is that the former looked to the left, whereas Icke obviously leans to the right, while pretending he is neither right nor left. But the bottom line is that, no matter how much he exposes the elite, David Icke is a rightwing counterrevolutionary.
I was reading the letters page of the Weekly Worker and was panicking. I thought there was no correspondence about Corbyn and/or starting a ‘new’ Labour Party. Imagine my relief when I read David Lindsay’s letter (November 5). I just hope that issue is resolved going forward. So come on - let’s have plenty of letters on both.
Whilst you are at it, can we resolve the hypocrisy of, when Corbyn was in power, telling him to stand up to the right wing of the Labour Party, but, now that Starmer is in power, telling him that he must bring unity to the party? Oh and it’s just a minor point, but the theory of historical materialism, which socialists and Marxists I hope believe, would render a vote for Corbyn pointless.
If you can, answer these points and explain why Corbyn’s defeat was all the fault of the right in the Labour Party and the media - that, because Labour was not leftwing enough, the Conservatives won an 80-seat majority.