On November 12 The Guardian had a piece on the return of Evo Morales to Bolivia. It followed their irritatingly normal process of inserting a few weasel words as ‘background’. For instance, “Bolivia’s first indigenous president resigned and abandoned the country … escaping on a Mexican airforce jet … decided to flee … after claims of electoral fraud … later questioned [good lord!] … sparked street protests and deadly unrest.” A couple of days earlier they had greeted his return with a big picture and a caption that included the words, “He left Bolivia 12 months ago amid claims of votes being rigged.”
They missed out the bit about the Organization of American States (OAS) - led by the USA, of course - querying the results of the election that Morales had won fair and square. There was a sharp uptick in votes for Morales towards the end of the count. This was perfectly normal and expected: a lot of his support was in rural parts of Bolivia and took a while to collect and count. The same pattern emerged in the election just past in which his party, the Movement for Socialism (MAS), won the presidency again.
In the interim Bolivia had a bible-wielding rightwing nutter, Jeanine Áñez - just what the US likes in its ‘backyard’ - who, The Guardian said in June, “was catapulted to power last November with one job: to hold elections as soon as possible”. The article pointed out that she wasn’t keen on that “one job”, but concluded: “Analysts suggest that weak institutions and widespread corruption are partly a MAS legacy - and that Áñez’s persecution of critics mirrors Morales tactics.”
Weaselling again - but never let it be said that The Guardian ever asserted something that might conceivably be untrue. A rightwing coup, with the support of the military and the police, along with the US government, got rid of a politician who had led moves to cut poverty and increase education, but also threatened the grip of US corporations on natural resources - which in Bolivia are many and varied.
I believe the role of The Guardian in this sort of story is important. It does feed the left flank of the mainstream bourgeois press in Britain - and they have ambitions for the English-speaking (at least) world. A lot of socialists of assorted hues and interests read that paper, I do, for instance - in part to see what the bastards are up to (as above). For real analysis and understanding we obviously need the Weekly Worker, but for a daily account of what’s going on in the world The Guardian does give us something.
They have done a pretty good job on the criminal actions of the government through the “hostile environment” - especially the treatment of the ‘Windrush generation’, which the government continues to treat with abysmal cruelty. The same applies to the many forced off benefits, or adequate benefits, by target-meeting corporate employees.
But this newspaper was a leader in the false charges of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and, to their eternal shame, pretty well all of their regular correspondents joined in, some with relish and others with just a few words - to show they were onside, I guess. About the only one to hold out against the witch-hunt was their cartoonist, Steve Bell.
The Guardian also has an abysmal record on a great deal of foreign reportage: ‘Russiagate’, the attempted coup in Venezuela, the ignoring of the trial of Julian Assange - to whom they owe so much. The Guardian is a loyal supporter of the foreign policies of the establishment - in the US as well as the UK.
It’s always declared itself to be a proudly ‘liberal’ paper, but it hasn’t always been this bad. It’s a ‘foundation’, not a corporation. It’s not owned by the Murdoch, Lebedev or Northcliffe family - or even part of a porn empire. But it depends on advertising for its revenue, along with donations from its loyal readers (not me, I hasten to add!). A lot of donating readers are, I believe, in the US, so they wouldn’t want to upset them too much.
The Guardian suffers from the same pressures as the rest of the mainstream press - the greatest perhaps being the loss of advertising revenue, in large part because so much of it is now online. Just look at the property pages in your local newspaper and compare that with what it was only a few years ago. Most newspapers are now owned by corporations rather than being the adornments of individuals. In many cases the main drive is ‘what makes our readers angry’, to keep circulation up and thereby advertising revenue, rather than ‘how we can keep them informed’.
Even now, or at least until very recently, the proud claims of the newspaper industry were of their triumphs with Watergate in the US, and with thalidomide in the UK. I say ‘until very recently’ because these are fading events in public memory, but what is there to replace them?
One of the consequences of loss of revenue is journalistic redundancies. Greg Palast - a good, old-fashioned journalist, whose stories have included Exxon Valdez, Deepwater Horizon and US voter suppression - has pointed out why investigative reporting is not so popular nowadays. It’s expensive; hotels, flights, maybe bribes. It can take a long time to get to the bottom of a story; building trust with whistle-blowers, checking the accuracy of assertions, looking at the history. It’s risky; especially in the UK reporters and their employers can face libel charges - success here doesn’t so much depend on truth as on the depths of your pockets.
This has also been written about by Seymour Hersh - famous for uncovering the My Lai massacre and many other stories. Many honest journalists around the world continue to pay for their honesty with their lives.
So who can we trust? It’s a real problem for communists, but also the whole working class. Witch-hunts can be launched, lies are repeated over and over again until they fade into received ‘truth’. I’ll continue to read The Guardian - a quick skim generally is enough, though some may wish to linger over the sport, the fashion, the recipes, travel, yoga, games to play with your children in lockdown … But remember whose side they’re on and make sure to do some checking.
Too high a price
I agree with Daniel Lazare that theoretically state legislatures could reject the decision of the electorate and place the decision as to who will be president with the House of Representatives (‘Washington wars intensify’, November 12). However, politically that is impossible. This is a classic example of mistaking form for substance.
I agree with Daniel concerning the role of the American constitution as a series of checks and balances against democracy. Even by the standards of western Europe, the United States is barely recognisable as a bourgeois democracy. Democracy is the sugar coating on an extremely repressive pill. I would suggest that this is a consequence of America’s origins as a settler-colonial state and slavery.
American police forces are highly militarised, with armoured personnel carriers, tanks and even airplanes - all surplus military stock. There is no pretence in reality that sovereignty resides with the people. Then there is each state’s national guard, which is effectively a wing of the military. We can see this with the attack by federal agents on Black Lives Matter demonstrators in Portland over the summer.
Combine that with the election of a white supremacist and fascist to the White House, which is what Trump represents, then it is understandable that Daniel reaches the conclusion that Congress could overturn the decision of the American electorate. However, the fact that the White House is currently occupied by a fascist doesn’t mean that the United States is fascist.
Trump represents a minority far-right component of the US ruling class. It is clear that the vast majority of that class does not support his ludicrous attempt to pretend that he has won the election. Virtually all countries have now recognised Biden as president-elect - even Israel!
The US ruling class recognises and understands the danger of overturning the result of the presidential election. To destroy the illusions of millions of American people in the legitimacy of the US constitution seems a very high price to pay for the sake of Trump’s ego. I can see no indication that the courts are willing to take this path. Even the far-right Supreme Court is highly unlikely to take such a course, because it would, at a stroke, destroy its own legitimacy and pose the question as to who judges the judges.
To deliberately invite a revolution and national insurrection and the destruction of the US’s sclerotic constitution - which is what Trump’s instalment as president for the next four years would do - would suggest that the American ruling class has a death wish.
I also don’t detect any enthusiasm for Trump’s tactics inside the Republican Party. Former president George Bush has come out in support of Biden as have a minority of senators. The reluctance of others to formally oppose Trump has more to do with their fear of the white populism he has stirred up than support for what would be a plunge into the constitutional abyss.
I have no doubt that the Electoral College will do its duty and that Biden will become the 46th president.
Comrade Mike Macnair, in his letter in the November 5 edition of Weekly Worker, says that my September 24 article was unproductive because it failed to address his criticisms. I will therefore try to reiterate the responses to his criticisms that I gave in my past articles.
The first criticism, or viewpoint that comrade Macnair holds, is that the Soviet bureaucracy that arose in 1918-21 “willingly” restored capitalism. He argues that it would have been better if the Bolsheviks had decided to reject the Brest-Litovsk treaty and “go down fighting” rather than compromise in order to gain time and space to build a stable state. Comrade Macnair does not strike me as an ultra-leftist or an anarchist, but this resembles an ultra-left position on the question of state power. Because anarchists reject state power altogether, and because of an adventurist glorification of insurrection, libertarian ultra-lefts believe that it is better to fail in a blaze of glory than to engage in the ‘boring’ and/or ‘authoritarian’ work of building up a stable workers’ state. Again, I do not attribute anarchism or even ultra-leftism to Macnair, but frankly I find this idea of his to be bizarre.
I suppose that he is arguing, from a formal democratic standpoint, that the Bolsheviks should have bowed to the will of the majority, even if this would mean the defeat of the revolution. But this reveals the weakness of the standpoint of bourgeois (formal) democracy. I fail to see how fighting a quixotic battle against Germany in 1918 would have been a better option for the revolution. In all likelihood the October revolution would have ended in the same way the Paris Commune did, and a rightwing Bonapartist state would have been established.
My position is not that everything that happened in 1918-21 was all ‘good and fine,’ until the pesky Stalinists took over. I don’t think that anyone could seriously deny that all of the prerequisites of Soviet bureaucracy were birthed in this period. I would also argue that Trotsky pre-1923 was a very problematic figure as far as Soviet bureaucracy was concerned. This is not to draw an equals sign between the early Bolsheviks and later Stalinism. I think that, however impractical their proposals were for Soviet Russia in the time and circumstance, the criticisms of Soviet bureaucracy made by the Workers’ Opposition and the Democratic Centralists were generally more correct than Lenin’s and Trotsky’s at the time.
The difference, though, between Lenin and Trotsky in 1918-21 and Stalinism was that, although they often raised hard necessities into virtues, they were very clear that the state that they were building still bore the legacy of capitalism and class relations. They openly acknowledged the possibility that the Soviet bureaucracy could have been usurped by an Ustryalov type to steer the Soviets towards a bourgeois, Bonapartist state. Lenin and Trotsky never renounced the theoretical basis of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In contrast, Stalinist ideology denied these contradictions and possibilities, and declared that the Soviet Union was basically a classless society, and on that basis ignored and justified bureaucratic abuses of power, under the guise of a “state of the whole people”.
I also disagree strongly that capitalism was restored in 1921. A look at the political and economic programme of the Bolsheviks in 1917 and early 1918 envisioned a far greater arena for state capitalism to function than was permitted under the New Economic Policy. In contrast to Stalinist triumphalism, Lenin declared at the 3rd Congress of the Soviets that the declaration of a socialist republic meant the intention of building socialism, not that socialism had already been established. Macnair’s characterisation of the NEP as a full-blown capitalist restoration seems to contradict his position on the USSR during and after Stalin, which he characterises as neither state capitalist nor a degenerated workers’ state.
The present political implications about the labour bureaucracy is something that I thought I had touched on in detail in my September 24 article, which incidentally included criticisms of the Bolsheviks (‘Building models for the future’). I will try to reiterate the argument that I made against comrade Macnair. Bureaucracy is not something that can be ‘overthrown’. The healthiest and most democratic form of proletarian dictatorship will inevitably exhibit symptoms of bureaucracy - in inverse proportion, as the productive forces develop and the contradictions between mental and manual labour and social and individual property are overcome. To therefore place as a prerequisite to taking power the overthrow of the labour bureaucracy is to turn proletarian revolution into an impossible endeavour.
I also think that Macnair’s point about the labour bureaucracy being a bulwark of the bourgeois state is problematic in today’s context. Perhaps in the UK, where there is still an influential Labour Party, this is more accurate. But to say that the labour bureaucracy is an auxiliary of the bourgeois state today is, I think, a bit of an exaggeration. The trend of the past decades has been to politically atomise and marginalise the proletariat to the extreme, making even the labour bureaucracy a political nonentity.
This is not to say that we can ignore bureaucracy in workers’ organisations. I agree with Macnair on the need for a fundamental democratisation of workers’ organisations as a means of subordinating bureaucracy to the workers, in lieu of an ‘overthrow’ of labour bureaucracy as a phenomenon. I would agree that a full renovation of proletarian leadership and organisation is necessary.
But Macnair’s essentially libertarian remedies retain the ambiguity of formal democracy. Without the right orientation, they could lead simply to the liquidation of workers’ organisations altogether. The thrust of my argument against Macnair’s interpretation of democracy is that formal democracy is not enough. The benefits of democracy (within a party, union or government) must be brought to the workers through political affirmative action, and these same benefits must in some way be restricted for the bourgeoisie and its representatives.
I’m surprised to see comrade Eddie Ford raise democratic centralism as the guiding principle as to the way forward in Britain, as opposed to a federal republic (‘Stonewalling unionism hankers after direct rule’, November 12). What form might this take? There’s no mention of such an alternative that I can see in the CPGB Draft programme or ‘What we stand for’, and it seems to be at odds with comrade Demarty’s position in his earlier article, ‘Eyes on exits’ (October 22).
Also, is it really credible to pose the federal republic as the means for Scotland’s parliament “to decide on separation without begging Westminster’s permission”? Why should communists be demanding there has to be another hurdle to jump before the right to self-determination can be granted?
As I stated in my last letter (November 5), the Scottish people have consistently and overwhelmingly voted for parties advocating independence for years. Therefore, as comrade Demarty states (and comrade Ford sort of accepts), that is the grounds for communists to now support the exercising of the right to self-determination, whilst calling for the swiftest possible coming back together of all the peoples of these islands in a federal republic. Anything less is surely, in comrade Demarty’s words, a “top-down constitutional union” and a bastardisation of democratic centralism.
There’s also something no longer credible about the division of labour posed to communists in England and Scotland in regards to what rights to fight for. Can it really be the case that comrades and workers in Scotland must only be seen to fight against exercising the right to self-determination? I know this may bring salvoes of historical orthodoxy, but it does smack of dogma now rather than dealing with the actual realities we face.
I fully appreciate the problems and dangers of nationalism infecting the left, but there is an urgent need for comrades to grapple with the situation as it is right now, not to fear changing tack and to offer genuine extreme democracy as the way forward.
Tam Dean Burn
Join the fight
Whether you call yourself a socialist, a Marxist or an anarchist, you risked forfeiting your right to claim that label if you abandoned your comrades in their hour of need by standing aside from the battle to reinstate Jeremy Corbyn.
We all believe that the society in which we live should be more just - however we define that term and however we differ in the ultimate solutions that we propose. If Starmer and his cronies succeeded in permanently excluding Jeremy Corbyn from the Labour Party, then the cause of social justice to which we all subscribe would have received a body blow, from which it would take years to recover.
If you are a member of a leftwing group outside the Labour Party and believe that your group will gain from an exodus of leftwingers from the Labour Party, think again. Don’t expect that those who were on the front line of the struggle to defend Jeremy Corbyn would gladly embrace your group if it had abstained from what is probably the most important battle within the labour movement of the past 75 years. Don’t expect that any new electoral front with leftwing ex-Labour Party members that your group may create will attract many votes.
The expulsion of Jeremy Corbyn would have been a major defeat for our cause. Defeats lead to demoralisation. New parties or alliances formed from defeats get nowhere - as we have seen in the past 25 years, with the Socialist Labour Party, the Independent Labour Network, the Socialist Alliance, Respect, Left Unity and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. Yet another such ‘challenge’ to the status quo would also be doomed to fail.
Democracy, free speech and indeed truth itself is under attack in one of the institutions of the labour movement. The triumph of Starmer’s false view of reality would be detrimental to our cause. It was in the interests of everyone on the left, and in the interests of the working class in general, for Jeremy Corbyn to be reinstated. An injury to one is an injury to all, and it would be the height of sectarianism for you to stand idly by, while neoliberals regain full control of the Labour Party.
Cyberspace enables you to protest without leaving the comfort of your armchair. In my opinion, anyone who claims to be leftwing and failed to take action to defend Jeremy Corbyn is nothing but a windbag.
Why was Corbyn suspended? What rule did he break? Why are members of the Labour Party not allowed to discuss this issue? Ask these questions, and point out that the suspension of Corbyn and the suppression of discussion of that suspension are an attack on free speech and democracy.
Join the fight and defeat the right!
Labour Party member