Daniel Lazare’s article, ‘Syria and the usual suspects’ (May 13), is a good illustration of the kind of “anti-imperialism of fools” that the Syrian intellectuals and others criticise in their statement that Lazare purports to savage. Lazare writes that “the evidence concerning America’s central role in the destruction of Syria has mushroomed” (my emphasis).
There is no such mushrooming of evidence. The quotes Lazare provides show that the US created a jihadist Frankenstein in Afghanistan in pursuing its geopolitical, imperialist interests in late 1970s. As to the intelligence report and the speech by Joe Biden in 2014, they show that the US was wary in committing itself to support potentially dangerous forces in Syria. There is no contradiction between these two ‘revelations’. Trying to rule the world is not easy.
Until the Iranian and especially Russian intervention of 2015, the fate of the Assad regime really hung in the balance. It would have been very strange if the US as the strongest imperialist power in the world had not been interested in the nature of a prospective post-Assad Syria. So the Americans gave arms and material support to the rebels, some of it through Saudi Arabia. Turkey and Qatar also aided anti-Assadists.
But no evidence supports the contention that the US has actively sought to overthrow Assad, as it did to Saddam Hussein in neighbouring Iraq in 2003. The strongest US commitment in Syria has been its air campaign, in which it destroyed the Isis ‘caliphate’ in the north and north-east of Syria. The Americans made an alliance with the Kurdish forces and their Arab and Assyrian allies. This has enraged Turkey, an important Nato ally, whose nightmare is permanent Kurdish autonomy across its border to the south.
So Syria has been torn apart by geopolitical gangster wars, where various - partly antagonistic, partly parallel - interests criss-cross with Iran, Russia and Turkey as the main players, not the US this time. The overwhelming majority of the hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths have been caused by the government side. How could stating this factual history cover up the crimes of imperialism?
The statement by Syrians and others criticised individuals and websites which, in their geopolitical campism, have tried to erase Syrians and their democratic aspirations altogether, and began to support the murderous tyranny of the Assad dynasty. It is easy to write that the “Syrian revolution failed because activists sought to make common cause with ultra-reactionary elements”. This is both a lazy and at the same time callous and arrogant view for anybody who purports to belong in the left. How many revolutionaries have perished either in Assad’s jails and torture chambers or by the medieval barbarity of jihadists, in the two-pronged counterrevolution in Syria!
For the sake of accuracy it is also important to be a bit more fine-grained about political Islam than Lazare, who paints movements from the Muslim Brotherhood to Daesh (Islamic State) with the same broad brush. As I write these lines, I am hearing the news from Palestine/Israel, where Israel is once again killing Palestinians and destroying property by pounding Gaza - a small besieged enclave of two million people, governed by Hamas. What is Hamas? It is a movement that was founded as the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brothers. Would that be an argument for the left to be silent about massacres and ethnic cleansing by Israel?
Recall also in this connection that Syria and Palestine are very close neighbours, who were separated only by the imperialist powers after World War I. The most advanced radical, leftwing group in the area - the socialist organisation in Israel, Matzpen - stressed the unity of the whole Arab east already in the 1960s and based its internationalist socialist programme on it.
Lazare calls “usual suspects” some of the signers of the statement he tries to savage. The expression comes from the end scene of the film Casablanca, where one of the main characters - a police chief in Vichy-governed French Morocco - gives an order to “round up the usual suspects”: that is, people suspected of anti-fascist activity. Well, not a bad epithet!
I was sorry to hear about the passing of Cliff Slaughter on May 3 and would like to defend him against the arguments put forward by Gerry Downing (Letters, May 13).
Firstly, it is necessary to point out that Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and Mao are all individuals who, although they had a positive side, nevertheless, to one degree or another, damaged the image of socialism to a certain extent, which gave the enemies of communism ammunition to fight us with. This begins with Marx raising dictatorship into a principle of socialism, and ends with Trotsky advocating socialist revolution in backward countries, which were not ready for it, based on his ‘permanent revolution’ theory. In this sense, Trotsky is responsible for most of the things which went wrong in the Russian Revolution and the Chinese revolutions. Also, without Trotsky there would have been no Pol Pot - Trotskyism is the intellectual basis for all attempts to go immediately for socialism in backward countries.
Cliff Slaughter was right to arrive at the position that socialism was not on the agenda in 1917, and history bears him out. Both Lenin and Trotsky were forced to recognise this later, and the failed attempt to introduce communism was relabelled ‘war communism’, and abandoned for the New Economic Policy in 1921 - which Stalin prematurely put an end to in 1928, after adopting Trotsky-type ultra-leftism in the economic sphere.
Although Russia was not ready for socialism in 1917, which means a higher standard of living for people than under the most advanced capitalist society, this does not mean that communists should have avoided power in 1917 Russia, or China in 1949. Communists can take power in backward countries, providing they realise that the transition to full-blown socialism cannot be an immediate goal. Indeed, as pointed out above, this is the conclusion Lenin and Trotsky came to by 1921. Thus the course of the Russian Revolution was actually a repudiation of Trotsky’s permanent revolution theory. And the repudiation came in the palpable form of NEP.
What is being taught here is that, when communists take power in backward countries, in a world where capitalism still predominates, their economic strategy should be one of a mixed economy: that is to say, a strong state sector plus small-business private enterprise. This combination of the state sector, or the commanding heights of the economy, as Lenin put it, with a petty bourgeois small-business sector is the first stage in the transition to communism in backward countries. Trotsky himself made allowances for this in his semi-ultra-left transitional programme in 1938. This strategy may even apply to advanced capitalist countries, where a state sector can be combined with a small-business sector in the transition to communism.
Downing is also wrong about Mao’s bloc of four classes. Class alliances are based on the political goals for the revolution. As an ultra-left approach to revolution, Trotskyism opposes alliances between classes, regardless of what such alliances are supposed to achieve, and so we have the condemnation of Dimitrov. Those who share Trotsky’s ultra-left position that socialist revolutions in backward countries should be attempted as the immediate goal - an idea which even seduced Lenin and later Mao - will no doubt oppose Mao’s bloc. But the bloc of four classes was correct. The problem is that Mao did not stick to its economic underpinnings - ie, the strategy of mixed economy in the transition to communism - and later went instead for the Great Leap Forward, which was really a leap backwards, if the truth be told.
Failure forced him on to the back benches, until his comeback via the Cultural Revolution from 1966.
Campaign for Democratic Socialism
Eddie Ford mistakenly includes Socialist Appeal in his line-up of Brexit-supporting leftwing organisations (‘The politics of denial’, May 13). SA, just like the Socialist Equality Party, took a neutral position when it came to the 2016 European Union referendum. Eddie was confusing SA with the Socialist Party in England and Wales, which did take a left-Brexit position in regard of the referendum.
Putting a little error aside, I must clear up any confusion Eddie’s fellow comrade, Jack Conrad, has in regard of my use of the term ‘working class’. There are two definitions of the working class. One is the Marxist definition, which can be summed up as 95% of those on ‘pay as you earn’. The other 5% are those people who are paid, say, more than £50,000 per year, such as MPs, senior state employees and company directors. The Marxist definition of the middle class can be summed as the five-million self-employed, including builders, plumbers, electricians, etc, along with self-employed doctors (GPs), accountants, solicitors, etc.
The other definition is that used by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the polling organisations. This defines the working class as social groups C2, D and E (skilled manual, semi-skilled, and unskilled manual workers, respectively). At the same time, the middle class is defined as social groups A, B and C1 (managerial, professional, and white-collar workers, respectively).
Why are these different definitions so important? The answer can be seen in the collapse of the ‘red wall’ in the north-east and the Midlands. At the same time, we are witnessing the collapse of the ‘blue wall’ outside London. As Ben Page of polling organisation Ipsos-Mori has accurately pointed out, age and home-ownership is now the predictor of how people vote, not social class.
Using the ONS definition of social class, we can see that Labour is now the party of the middle class, whereas the Tories are now the party of the working class. I am reminded of the famous Spitting image sketch, which followed the unexpected Tory general election victory of 1992. This showed Norman Lamont and John Major knocking on the door of a thick working class Tory voter. When he opened the door, Lamont and Major started jeering at him: “Stupid, stupid, stupid!” This accurately sums up the new Tory voters in the former ‘red wall’.
As I mentioned earlier, we are starting to see the collapse of the ‘blue wall’ outside London. Labour won five out of the 10 seats up for election on Worthing council on the south coast. It also won a couple of seats in Chipping Norton, home of David Cameron. At the same time, closer to home, Labour won the metro mayor for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. This, together with the Tories losing control of Cambridgeshire county council to a coalition of Labour, Lib Dems and independents, has sent shock waves through the Tory Party in Cambridgeshire.
As Ben Page says, age and home-ownership are the predictor of how people vote, not social class. This explains the results in Cambridgeshire. Rents and house prices here are higher than most parts of London. No wonder more than 28,000 citizens of Cambridge voted Labour. Using the ONS definition of social class, the middle class Labour voters of Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire outnumbered the working class Tory voters of Fenland.
One policy that costs nothing (which even Sir Keir Starmer could support) and is a sure-fire winner of votes amongst ‘generation rent’ is rent controls. Of course, rent controls mainly benefit existing tenants. So it is necessary to link a policy for rent controls with one to build one million council houses per year. Rent controls and building new council houses would go down a treat in the working class Tory stronghold of Fenland, if only Labour would campaign for them!
Last week’s article from Moshé Machover (‘Stench of Zionist colonisation’) and the letter from Andrew Northall (‘Electability’) - to my mind both of exceptional pertinence and thus value - led me to knock up an email communication to contacts of my own, including close family.
Despite voices in my head that whisper it all goes way beyond what will be considered appropriate, I’d like to share those thoughts of mine with readers of the Weekly Worker. Triggered by the newest horror stories to emanate from Palestine/the Gaza Strip (aka Israel), these thoughts represent identical messages and analysis to the mainstream of the Weekly Worker/CPGB, but are proffered in a different style, as well as with somewhat more intangible motivations.
The email concerned simply asked: “Are the courtrooms at Nuremberg still in working order? The same going for its hanging-scaffolds!” Here and now I wonder whether modern-times communism would have the guts to promote this specific take on things, albeit in its plainly irony-soaked nature, with its provocatively educational/brutally enlightening intentions.
But once again other voices bounce around inside my head, bringing an expectation of disappointment, thankfully accompanied by a dash of hope - hope that the very best of everything will dominate, will arise supreme: as it were (indeed, somewhat supernaturally?) that Marxist ‘validity’ will remain sufficiently virile, potent, sufficiently filled with vibrancy and red-hot dynamism to determine both humankind’s and planet Earth’s ultimate destiny.
Nothing presented here stems from any misplaced belief in ‘sage-like’ prophecy, let alone from any special genius. In fact it’s quite the opposite - it’s identical to a sort of secret-world undercurrent to life. A veritable host of folk share closely similar ideas and aspirations, all of which is pretty much untapped and certainly nowhere reflected in capitalism’s assorted systems for running society - nor even on our Marxist left wing. In any event, it is immeasurably preferable to that essentially counterrevolutionary, anti-working class stuff, as is often reinforced in the Weekly Worker, such as by comrade Paul Demarty. In one of his recent pieces an endless string of honourable thinkers, decent-minded experimenters and as such would-be liberators of working people are dismissed as intellectually inadequate, foolish, idiotic or even dangerous “dilettantes” - anyway incapable of “class-rooted” analysis.
Oh really, is that so? Just go tell that to those wonderful local folk who last week blocked the deportation thugs of the UK state in Glasgow! How toxic, indeed how downright dangerous that posture and those so-called historically substantiated messages are in themselves. All of this is a reiteration of comrade Northall’s letter, but in raw language.