My big brother, Robin, passed away on December 19, aged 80. After a fall at home he was taken into hospital, where he caught Coronavirus and died of it three weeks later.
Robin was always six years older than me, and five years older than our brother, Ken. I count myself lucky to have been the youngest, as parents always seem to be stressed about the eldest - and Robin was the eldest son of an eldest son, so I think he got a double dose of parent pressure - and, despite living a long life, I believe he never fully recovered. Right into old age he never stopped complaining about his parents.
Perhaps that was why he used to tease me and Ken when he was left in charge of us at home - so long as he was much bigger than us. I once promised myself I would bash him when I grew big enough, but when that time came, I can remember being disappointed because I no longer felt the need for revenge. How unfair it seemed!
Among my earliest memories, I can just recall the three of us sharing a bedroom. Perhaps it was in our Stoke Newington flat, before we moved into a newly-built 3-bedroom council house in 1950 - when Robin was 10 - in Debden, Essex, with farm fields and Epping Forest as our playground.
Robin took me out “bird-nesting” across the fields and hedges - we used to collect their eggs, along with stamps and matchbox tops. Once he kept a whole family of field mice in one of our toy cupboards. And he specialised in assembling aeroplane kits out of balsa wood, glue and tissue paper, and flying them across the farm fields.
On the way to blackberrying on ‘Scarecrow Hill’, at the entrance to the forest near Debden Green camping ground, we had to pass ‘the haunted house’ - occupied by ghosts and skeletons, according to the older kids. It was actually a bombed out bungalow - a reminder perhaps, for Robin, of the terrible World War II that he had lived through as a toddler, including evacuation from east London to Grandma Lotte’s house in Leigh-on-Sea to avoid the bombs dropping on London.
Ken and I, on the other hand, were peace babies. We grew up after the fear of Nazi invasion and occupation was over, without trauma, through the stability and hope of the long post-war economic boom. We were lucky - but none of us were free of the fear of nuclear war, and in his teens Robin was active locally in the Youth CND - the ‘Ban-the-Bomb’ movement - and in the Young Communist League for a short while, until he rejected his father’s ‘Soviet Union, right or wrong’ dogma.
I don’t think he ever lost his indignation at the way the world is run - the exploitation, inequality and injustice of capitalism, and its headlong rush towards climate change and ecological disaster - but the seeming hopelessness of trying to put the world right certainly contributed to his negative feelings about life. Now it’s too late for Robin, but at least his troubles are over. It’s not too late for the rest of us.
I was interested to see what other Trotskyists made of Lars T Lih’s article on Kamenev (‘A curious case’, December 17). I don’t agree with all of Lih’s conclusions on the history of Bolshevism, but I think his work deserves to be treated seriously and the source material he serves up is a treasure trove indeed.
I then had the misfortune to look at the Facebook page of the ‘Revolutionary History Journal’. Revolutionary History is now defunct as a serious publication for debate and seems to have fallen into decline soon after dear old Ted Crawford took a back seat a few years ago. It pains me to see the tradition of worthy comrades such as Al Richardson and Sam Bornstein, whom I was proud to be involved with for many years, being traduced by the current administrators of the ‘Revolutionary History Journal’ Facebook page.
One comrade posted a link on this page to your Lih article, after which the current de facto ‘admin-leader’ of the ‘Revolutionary History Journal’ replied: “Having given Lih’s article a quick once-over, I tend to agree with Kamenev’s understanding of the April theses rather than Lih’s revisionist gloss. The bottom line is that Kamenev opposed the October revolution and Lih is attempting to present a defence case for a vacillator who scabbed on the revolution. Which is all of a piece with his attempts to resurrect that fraud, Kautsky.”
This is breathtakingly stupid and a parody of a serious response. We’ll leave aside the comrade’s “quick once-over”, as I doubt whether he read beyond the headline. We are being asked to view all of Kamenev’s career through the “bottom line” of his behaviour on the eve of insurrection: the ‘original sin’ of Stalinist teaching, then, not Marxism, which makes Kamenev’s role under Lenin following the insurrection, and Lenin’s later request that Kamenev’s mistakes should not be used against the latter, completely inexplicable.
As for Lih’s “attempts to resurrect that fraud, Kautsky”, I think the former has done no such thing. Rather, he has pointed out the influence of Kautsky on Lenin. As a Trotskyist, I do not need Lih to tell me about this. Trotsky wrote in 1938: “The attempts of the present historiography of the Comintern to present things as if Lenin, almost in his youth, had seen in Kautsky an opportunist and had declared war against him are radically false. Almost up to the time of the world war, Lenin considered Kautsky as the genuine continuator of the cause of Marx and Engels.” It would be interesting to know if the current ‘admin-leader’ of ‘Revolutionary History Journal’ thinks that Trotsky was mistaken on this point or if Lenin was mistaken for following “that fraud, Kautsky”. That would at least be a more interesting debate than pretending it all never happened.
But the real jewel in the crown of this lamentable discussion was from another one of Lars T Lih’s loudest-lunged haters: “Lih’s polemical methods are undemocratic. Many of his arguments rest on understanding Russian, excluding non-Russian readers from fully assessing those arguments. The debating field should be level for all non-Russian readers.” What are the chances of most of the English-speaking Trotskyist left learning Russian in the next five years? Slim to non-existent. So what does the demand for a ‘level debating field’ on Russian Bolshevism amount to? That it would be better that Lih’s ‘undemocratic’ work did not exist. On that basis, Sam Bornstein and Al Richardson had, at the time, access to older Trotskyist comrades and documents that, pre-internet, most of us wouldn’t have had even a sniff of. So, by writing two volumes of priceless history concerning the British Trotskyist movement, Bornstein and Richardson were presumably “undemocratic”, because there was no way at the time we could check all of their manifold sources. This is lamentable. Our movement has always sought to learn from the most advanced elements in the movement and from bourgeois thinkers. And a good thing too.
Behind all this ‘hard Bolshevik’ (in fact, hard Stalinist) invective lies a sorry tale. A couple of years back the current ‘admin-leader’ of the ‘Revolutionary History Journal’ convened a small meeting of his friends and supporters to rescue the publication. I chose not to attend because of the silly invite letter that went out from the ‘great leader’: “To revive the journal and make it more relevant we need to reorient it towards a generation of militants that has little first-hand experience of industrial struggle and has a greater appreciation of the social movements in the fight for socialism than an older generation of readers. This demands that our idea of revolutionary history must be broadened and that we must cover a greater space both politically and chronologically. We must be more open to publishing material concerning syndicalism, Maoism, feminism and the ecological movement.”
In other words, it was proposed that Revolutionary History was to be diluted from its successful USP (telling the story of the revolutionary left) into broad ‘movementism’ and identity politics. So much for ‘Bolshevism’ (and it’s plausible that Lars T Lih and friends wouldn’t get a look-in on such a set-up).
Thankfully, this idiocy all came to naught, but what’s left of the so-called ‘Revolutionary History Journal’ is a poor shrine to the British Trotskyist movement and a once-great Revolutionary History project.
Comrade Mike Macnair assures us that he has long argued that “the split in the Second International cannot and should not be undone” (‘Principle, not dogma’, December 17). I will deal elsewhere with Lars T Lih’s piece, ‘A curious case’, in that same issue of the Weekly Worker, but much more obviously Lars T does not hold this position.
The chief point I wish to establish is there is far more to unite both third campists - Macnair and Lih - and their co-thinkers (Jack Conrad, Ben Lewis, John Riddell, Eric Blanc, etc) on support for the methodology of the Second International, and opposition to the first four congresses of the Third International and its political heir, the Fourth International, and the Russian Revolution itself than divides them. With the support of Max Shachtman and Hal Draper, third campism still seeks the Kautskyisation of Lenin and Bolshevism: that is, to rob them of their revolutionary essence and portray them as petty bourgeois democrats - as Kautsky essentially was and became openly after August 1914.
Comrade Mike’s arguments against me on the knotty question of nature vs nurture - the relationship between subject and object in revolutionary theory - come down to this paragraph:
“I decline to enter into the July 1917 counter-factual, except to say that I take comrade Downing to mean by ‘dialectical materialism’ the willingness to enter into the leap-of-will, revolutionary initiative; and, if Lenin had indeed successfully ‘educated’ the Bolsheviks in revolutionary initiative, assassinating Lenin would not have altered the result in October; so that comrade Downing’s argument is here a non-dialectical contradiction.”
Trotsky considered that if Lenin had been assassinated after the July Days the revolution would have been lost, because, although he had by September 1917 exactly the same political positions on the need for a second, socialist revolution and for an insurrection in the very short term to take power, overthrow the bourgeois state and establish a workers’ state, nevertheless his previous anti-Bolshevism would have meant he would not have carried the argument in those crucial September meetings of the central committee. And Lenin carried it against Kamenev and Zinoviev, who were silently supported by Stalin precisely because he had “successfully ‘educated’ the Bolsheviks in revolutionary initiative” over the previous decades. And for that same reason he won the argument over the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry and established his April theses in April and May 1917 as the political guide to October. Lars T Lih and all third campists deny this vehemently.
For the socialist revolution, the role of leadership is crucial: unlike with bourgeois revolutions, assassinations and mass repression can save the system far more readily. Plekhanov’s Role of the individual in history overemphasises this for bourgeois revolutions, thus yielding ground to objectivism, as comrade Macnair does; the revolution will triumph or would have triumphed anyway if the conditions for it were ripe, regardless of leadership. So the Trotskyists made mistakes and were divided during and immediately after World War II, when revolutionary situations arose, but mass executions by Stalinists, often in collusion with both Nazis and ‘democratic’ imperialists (Poland, Czechoslovakia, northern Italy, Greece, Vietnam), were the main means by which capitalism was saved in that period.
Perhaps October 1923 was not a full revolutionary situation, but a correct orientation to the working class in that crucial month would have kept the revolutionary perspectives alive. Instead of that we got Stalin’s idiotic ‘The revolution is not a bear. It will not run off into the woods’ to deny the defeat - foreshadowing the lunatic Third Period of ultra-leftism from 1928-34, when the main enemy was the Social Democrats and the Nazis were just other fascists whom it was politic to ally with against that main enemy - another working class organisation!
Comrade Levi Rafael can speak for himself, but comrade Macnair accepting “that there is a need for democratisation of workers’ organisations” and then going on to propose demands that clearly are not transitional in any way by completely accepting the continued existence of capitalism is clearly wrong. When he says, “banning the funding of newspapers and other media by commercial advertising; by treating payments to lobbying firms as bribes; by imposing a strict system of scale fees on the legal profession and treating payment of more than a scale fee for the type of dispute as a bribe; and by penalising these offences with property forfeiture in both the giver and the taker”, he implies we can ask the capitalists to cut their own feet off without sowing illusions in capitalism. This same point comes up again in Lars T Lih’s article.
How, asks Daniel Lazare, can anyone view the Republicans as worse than the Democrats (‘A guide for the perplexed’, December 17)? After all, the latter have touted wildly exaggerated claims of Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election, and are consistently covering up for the shady foreign business dealings of Biden’s son, Hunter (and, he might have added, virtually ignored a credible accusation of sexual assault against Biden himself).
The answer is that, while Democrats are just as dedicated as Republicans to maintaining the US empire abroad, it is the Republicans who have been in the vanguard of the neoliberal onslaught on the home front ever since Ronald Reagan won the presidency 40 years ago. They have deregulated business, reduced taxes on corporations and the rich, and attacked social welfare programmes and unions. The Democrats have largely followed the Republican lead, leaving GOP measures virtually intact, and at times taking the initiative themselves - especially during the presidency of Bill Clinton, who pushed ‘free-trade’ treaties and stiffened criminal penalties. But the Republicans have executed neoliberal rightward thrusts with far greater consistency and vigour. They have played upon white resentment and national chauvinism to peddle their corporate agenda for so long that a politically unvetted arriviste could ride those resentments to the White House and dominate the party for four years.
The Republicans now find themselves uncomfortably dependent upon the white-supremacist swamp creatures that have multiplied in Trump’s shadow. The Democrats are hardly above blowing the occasional racist dog whistle and distorting reality, but inflated claims of Russian interference are hardly comparable to the denial of climate change, blatant voter suppression, tacit encouragement of the Proud Boys and Boogaloo, or support for candidates with kind words for the lunatics of QAnon, who accuse the Dems of running a satanic paedophile ring out of a Washington pizza parlour.
The fact that the Democratic leadership is somewhat constrained by a voter base of unions, minorities and urban professionals, however, is not a valid argument for lesser evilism. The Democrats trade on the margin of difference between themselves and their more rightwing rivals to keep their base in tow, while protecting ruling-class interests. If the Democrats were ‘as bad’ as the Republicans, no-one would vote for them. Their balancing act consists in posing no serious threat to the ruling class, while maintaining the loyalty of their base by presenting themselves as less extreme. But to continue supporting them because the other guy is so much worse is forever to renounce the possibility of working class political independence.
Faced since 2016 with the Trump presidency and the Sanders challenge, the Democratic leadership has been casting about for ways to defeat Trump without putting forward a class-based politics in answer to his rightwing populism. They first played the Russia card and tried to impeach Trump over self-dealing in Ukraine. But, when these ploys failed to find a popular echo, they began pounding more heavily - and continue to pound - the identity-politics key. Team Biden is a string of ‘firsts’: the first black-Asian-woman vice-president; the first Hispanic secretary of health and human services; the first black secretary of defence; the first native American secretary of the interior; the first female treasury secretary. But thus far none of these ‘firsts’ is from the Sanders/Ocasio-Cortez wing of the party, and each would probably want to be the last to deviate from the firmly centrist course that the president-elect is charting for his administration.
The Biden presidency will assume office at a time when it is increasingly difficult to keep to the middle of the road. But the crisis, pace Daniel Lazare, is not fundamentally one of constitutional-legal structures. The most urgent situation involves the massive deaths and economic devastation wrought by the pandemic. But this is superimposed upon a deeper economic rot. Millions now find themselves without decent work or future prospects in deindustrialised urban and ex-urban wastelands. These marginalised working class populations - in the US and in Europe - are subject to the demagogy of authoritarian figures like Donald Trump, who seek to channel their anger into hatred of other sections of the working class. For its part, the Democratic leadership is at pains not to direct that anger toward the top.
Covid-19 and its effects call for massive government relief measures - thus far inadequate and enacted with much difficulty by a divided Congress. But neither can the corporate power - determined as it is to shun new productive investment in favour of stock buybacks and financial manipulations - be expected to embark on the broad programme of economic renovation required to rebuild the country’s infrastructure and produce clean energy. The return of well-paid industrial jobs, more than immediate relief measures, will require a sustained and costly government effort.
Such an effort is certainly not made easier by the US constitution, which no-one I know of on the socialist left defends (apart from certain liberties guaranteed in the Bill of Rights). But it is not the primary obstacle. Under the same constitution, but with a very different balance of forces, Franklin Roosevelt created 10-15 million government jobs in the depths of the great depression, and overcame a Supreme Court that ruled his entire ‘new deal’ illegal.
The first obstacle is one political party of steadfast loyalty to its capitalist paymasters, determined to use every opportunity to give to the rich and take from everyone else. The second obstacle is a party less zealous in promoting the interests of the capitalist class, but whose leaders are sufficiently class-loyal to resist the steep taxation of accumulated wealth, and the competition with private-sector employers, that any long-term economic renewal would demand. They are also determined to suppress any faction of their party that suggests moving along these lines.
The Green New Deal now pushed by the Democratic Party left does speak to the dual need for a new energy grid and abundant productive jobs. It will not be achieved, however, by the means its proponents advocate - incentivising capitalists and reforming the Democratic Party. It should figure as a demand of a workers’ party in the struggle for a new social order - in the course of which we will undoubtedly tear up the constitution.
So Julian Assange is not to be extradited - at least not yet. After the judge went exhaustively through his defence, dismissing it step by step, it came down to his health - if he got locked up in a US jail he’d be likely to commit suicide. This seems a little strained: what about his health in Belmarsh for the last few months?
The next step must be the accession of Biden to the throne. Will he drop it, as his old buddy, Obama, did, or will he pursue it? As predicted, the US is going to appeal, but that will take a little while. One thing we can predict, I believe, is that the British judiciary is not likely to fail the hegemon: they are as yet just not sure of its will.
Meanwhile, the US justice department, as they call it, has announced that they want to charge a Libyan for the bomb on Pan Am Flight 103 that exploded over Lockerbie in 1988, killing 270. This looks to me like a warning to the Scottish judiciary regarding the posthumous appeal being heard by five judges launched by Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s family against his conviction in 2001 for the bombing.
The evidence against al-Megrahi, another Libyan, was even less convincing than that against Assange for espionage, which is saying an awful lot. But, if the US government says that Libya was responsible for the Lockerbie disaster, then Libya was responsible - regardless of any evidence. It may well also be a warning over Assange - but this is the tail-end of Trump, so we must wait and see.
There have been comments made about the Trump pardon for the so-called ‘Blackwater Four’ - the US mercenaries who opened fire on civilians in Baghdad in 2007, killing 14 people, including two boys, aged 9 and 11. The rather obvious conclusion is that committing war crimes is OK, but telling the world about them is not.
Biden may drop charges against Assange, but much harm has been done to him already. It is a warning to journalists and whistle-blowers everywhere. Edward Snowden has been driven from his home country, Chelsea Manning has been imprisoned and pitilessly hounded for her honesty and courage. Assange is still bearing the weight of US revenge and who knows how he will emerge, in health and confidence, even if he is acquitted and released.
The world needs fearless and honest journalists and it has them: many have died for their tenacity and nerve. But the working class needs, internationally, a press that will speak truth - not to power, but to the working class - with no dependence on corporations or advertisers. Furthermore, imperialist crimes need to be exposed and reported, but the working class also needs the power to be able to put an end to these crimes in the first place.
Jack Conrad’s three-part series on Scottish nationalism is a tour de force - one that displays remarkable mastery of a thousand years of European history, as well as an impressive command of Marxism and the national question (Weekly Worker December 3, 10, 17). But a couple of points, if I may.
The first concerns the Socialist Equality Party, which Conrad says in part three “will not advocate the right of Scotland to self-determination”. But, while the article he cites argues vehemently against separation, nowhere does it address the legal-constitutional issue of whether such a right exists (‘Vote “no” in the Scottish referendum - fight for a socialist Britain’, June 21 2014). Indeed, it’s hard to imagine any Marxist party arguing against Scotland’s ability to undo an Act of Union that it entered into voluntarily in 1707. Whether it should do so is another question.
The second concerns Brexit. Given that Britain is seceding from the European Union, would Scotland’s departure from the UK be an act of secession or the opposite: ie, an act of loyalty vis-à-vis the EU? When West Virginia seceded from Virginia in 1861 and rejoined the union as a separate state two years later, no-one saw it as an act of secession: it was the opposite. Something tells me that Brussels would view a Scottish departure the same way if the goal was to rejoin the EU. We’re dealing with a different political framework.
Comrade Jack Conrad’s recent contributions to the debate on ‘the Scottish question’ were incisive. His most recent article, ‘Scotland as joint oppressor’ not only offers a logical, communist argument against Scottish separatism, but provides a solidly historical-materialist justification for his position (December 17).
Unfortunately the same could not be said for Keith Nathan when he urged Conrad not to bother too much with interesting but pointless things like historical facts (Letters, December 10). Among such frivolities we can include the Covid pandemic and the hastening breakdown of the climate: two of today’s monumental problems that are skewed by the constitutional debate in Scotland, yet which present an almost unprecedented need for grounded, principled and practical arguments for real internationalism.
Rather than throwing our lot in with left populism - chauvinism/opportunism/all the above - communists must formulate our politics through analysing the material, existent situation at every turn.
Contrary to comrade Nathan’s letter, it’s not in fact the “Brutish empire” that has the only proverbial horse in the imperial race. Who would really benefit most from Scottish independence? I’m quite sure it’d suit the North American bourgeoisie quite nicely for a desperate trade partner directly in competition with England to set up shop right next door - just as gladly as the European Central Bank would impose fresh austerity on an independent Scotland aspiring to EU membership.
Communists shouldn’t argue for this status quo nor for some bourgeois pseudo-alternative to replace it. At crossroads like these we should be pointing beyond things as they are to ‘show the world what it is really fighting for’.
Blame the west
If Marx taught us anything, it’s that religion is not about a belief in god, but is a state of mind. It’s pathological. But the most pernicious and dangerous state of mind in the world today is consumerism and the worshipping of money.
Where I live, in a reasonably sized industrial city, a huge metal fence has been erected around the school playing fields. Previously the community had been able to enjoy this playing field without a second thought, but now you would need a crack team of SAS specialists to get on there. Ted Hankin will probably be shocked by this, but Muslims were not to blame (Letters, December 17). No, this was a decision taken by a white person (shock, horror) - a woman, no less. Why was this decision taken? Why were these playing fields made no-go zones? Simple, because they wanted to charge for teams to play football. Another gift to the all-powerful money god.
I can also recount beautiful woodland after beautiful woodland being destroyed to build, among other things, a leisure centre, a motorway service station and unaffordable housing. Frankly most of the city where I live is a no-go zone. I basically have the right just to go to the shops and back. Again Ted Hankin will be shocked to learn this was not the work of Muslims, but good old white folk.
Following the high-profile media reports of grooming gangs in the UK the Fullfact organisation requested, via freedom of information regulations, details of child sex offenders’ ethnicity. The results were: “67% were white, 4% were Asian, 3% were black, 1% were mixed race and 1% were other. For 24% of defendants there was no information on their ethnicity.”
Unfortunately there is no data on the religious convictions of these people, but I would estimate that the vast majority are worshippers of money rather than the fabled creator of the universe. ‘I wonder what will happen when things get serious!’ Maybe they will carpet-bomb our cities, build military bases, stuff them with psychotic racists, heavily arm said psychotic racists and send them to patrol our streets, or get them to rape and mutilate our sons and daughters.
“Islam is hardly a religion at all, but rather a plagiarism of Judaism and Christianity.” Says Ted Hankin. So Judaism and Christianity were not plagiarising other religions and pagan rituals?
He writes: “Every Muslim has an obligation to jihad and, notwithstanding nonsense arguments that this means jihad of the self only, the crude apologist will believe this when presented with the overall evidence.” The vast majority of Muslims in the world do not resort to violence; therefore the overall evidence suggests that most Muslims see no obligation to kill the unbelievers. Only a crude racist would believe otherwise, when presented with the overall evidence. Moreover, a United Nations study a few years ago showed that the majority of suicide bombers had been injured or seen a loved one injured in conflicts. So these ‘terrorist’ actions were not the result of religious indoctrination, but the direct result of imperialist interest and its attempts at world domination.
In fact behind most religious conflicts and communal violence lies economics, but Ted Hankin takes the surface appearance of religion as the underlying reason for them. I can’t think of anything more anti-Marxist than this. But, reading Ted Hankin, I was more reminded of a moronic member of the English Defence League than I was of Marxist historical materialism. It was more Katie Hopkins than Karl Marx.
“Breivik is a really isolated individual, whereas Islamic attacks are a constant threat,” he writes. This is because most of the ‘Breiviks’ are actually serving in the armed forces of the west and are currently patrolling the streets of some invaded nation - usually to protect oil and gas reserves or to plunder rare earth materials.
Hankin talks like the invasion of Iraq was some one-off event, rather than being just another chapter in a 500-year history of dominance, brutality, plunder and rape. The threat from the west is not so much a constant threat: it is as regular as the sun rising each morning.
He says that “Breivik’s ‘manifesto’ ... reveals a highly intelligent and knowledgeable opponent who begins with a critique of ‘cultural Marxism’ ...” Any idiot can spend five minutes on YouTube lapping up the utter idiocy that is the critique of cultural Marxism.
He adds that Breivik stands “in contrast to the rather pathetic types that the Islamists tend to sacrifice in terror attacks”. As stated previously, such types had often been injured or seen loved ones injured by the marauding troops of the psychotic west, hell-bent on world domination.
Ted Hankin says that the call for voluntary assimilation “would have some credibility if Muslim immigrants showed any sign of wanting to assimilate”. He just can’t help lumping them all together, but Muslims live in the most diverse parts of town, where people from Somalia, Pakistan, Romania, Nigeria, etc, etc live side by side. Contrast this with the white folk of Harrogate, who would petition their local MP should a dark-skinned person move onto their street and recoil in fear that their house price might fall!
I have also noticed that during the coronavirus pandemic a disproportionate number of dark-skinned people have not only put their lives on the line to treat people, but are also active volunteers to deliver food to the homeless and other acts of kindness. Kindness and empathy incidentally are hard-wired into the Islamic way of life. Contrast this with the primary religion of white folk. Their main concern is consuming without any care of the consequences. Their primary state of mind is sociopathic, lacking any kind of empathy and only caring about one thing: their own self gratification.
Islamic fundamentalism or western values? On balance I will take Islamic fundamentalism!
I respect Lawrence Parker - obviously a lot more than he respects me. One reason for my respect is that a while ago, in a pub crowd of ‘socialists’, an old boy was trying to recruit me to the Communist Party of Britain. He was telling me of the only workers’ daily, the Morning Star, and of the continuous history of a hundred years or so. I didn’t take up his invitation, but I did ask a CPGB comrade soon after about the origins of this particular split. He recommended The kick inside - revolutionary opposition in the CPGB, 1945-1991 by Lawrence Parker. I recommend it too for any Weekly Worker reader who hasn’t read it already.
But I was somewhat perturbed to read his letter in the December 17 issue of this paper. I could disagree with his characterisation of my previous letter as a “miasma of phosphorescent nothingness”, but maybe he is right. Certainly, in that issue there are far more weighty issues tackled. We have Jack Conrad’s Scotland supplement part 3, Lars T Lih on Kamenev, Mike Macnair on his continuing fight for Marxist clarity, and much more. Personally I’ve been reading the paper cover to cover for the short period that I’ve been aware of it and its importance. These historical struggles are essential to the struggles now and struggles to come for the working class to put an end to the mess we are all living in.
The letters page though? There are weighty matters considered there too, but many expressions of opinion. Comrade Parker says, “tell me something I don’t know”, but (and I may be missing his point here) the Weekly Worker is not a news paper. If a war is launched, I would expect a high degree of context and analysis in the paper, but I would learn of its occurrence from TV or online news or even from The Guardian or the Mail.
The letters - and not just mine - in part at least give comments and opinions. Why did I write about Priti Patel (Letters, December 10)? It was straight after the news of the planeload of people on their way to Jamaica. It was an expression of disgust at the treatment of these people and their families. It came after the long, drawn-out home office criminality of what has become known as the Windrush scandal (one story that The Guardian has actually been useful for - and they’ve even stayed with it).
This history is not something that comrade Parker or any other Weekly Worker reader is unaware of, but something that might motivate the word “stupid”, which I immediately backed away from. Something might appear stupid, but if you assume that the actor(s) intended the end as well as the means then they may not be stupid at all, at least in the short run: they may be merely vicious, nasty and contemptuous (and contemptible) - in fact a normal Tory politician.
Yes class, not race, is the dominant issue and, as comrade Parker says, the government is “using immigration in a chauvinist (not racial) manner”, but black Britons tend to be at the bottom of the class pile in the UK and I would guess that most ministers are racists as well as class warriors.
Lawrence Parker’s letter did remind me of something. I had intended to write briefly of the book Britannia unchained, of which Priti Patel was, of course, one of the authors, as I’m sure most readers already know - along with Kwasi Kwarteng, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore and Elizabeth Truss. They have all gone on to greater things, insofar as that is possible in the Conservative Party, and all share with Boris Johnson and co a great contempt for the working class.
As I’ve said, maybe comrade Parker is right about my letters - though I’m not convinced. We have a big problem at the moment, in that it is very difficult to get any feedback and I don’t think that a letter in response to some ‘nonsense’ is necessarily very helpful. Meanwhile I will try to do better, try to say something different; who knows? - perhaps I can. I hope so, because I think the Weekly Worker is a great paper and I want to help - and I’m proud to have appeared in its pages.
BNP was right
Congratulations to Ted Hankin for his 1,800-word letter pointing out that Islam is a threat - something the British National Party was pointing out 20 years ago.
It’s a bit like Tony Dick-Head Blair, who, when he was in power, claimed that “we have much to learn from Muslims”. But then three years after leaving power he was writing articles in the Daily Mail pointing out what everyone with half a brain knew all along: namely that Islam is a threat, to put it mildly.