I have just read Gerry Wiley’s interesting letter about Socialist Appeal (August 12) - a group I was a member of until a year and a half ago. I can confirm that the organisation is precisely as he describes it. Since leaving I have written articles and set up a blog about how the organisation is a political cult.
Within the sect, we were discouraged from thinking for ourselves or exploring Marxist theory outside the sacred circle of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and Ted Grant. We prided ourselves on our orthodoxy and our contempt for intellectual fads. We believed that only our sect had the truth. Rivals were dismissed as ‘Taaffites’, ‘Cliffites’, ‘Healyites’, ‘Cannonites’, ‘Zinovievites’ or some other disobliging term. We would acknowledge that other Trotskyist groups were cults, but not ours.
Peer pressure and the mystical manipulation practised by the leadership discouraged us from reading anything outside the organisation’s own publications. Whenever I had a doubt on anything, I would simply look for an article on the Socialist Appeal or International Marxist Tendency website to resolve my difficulties. When I did eventually bring forward a disagreement I had on the organisation’s interpretation of the revolution, I was hounded out and slandered - as happens to any dissenting member of these sects.
Nor does the sectarianism of the organisation in relation to the ‘witch-hunt’ surprise me. We were utterly contemptuous of the rest of the left behind their backs. Internally we rubbished the “left reformists” and “ex-comrades” that made up our closest ideological relations in the labour movement.
Heiko Khoo, one of the people who turned up at the anti-expulsion protest outside Labour HQ, is a former member of Socialist Appeal who was expelled by the Woods clique for daring to challenge the leadership on the issue of the class nature of China, among other things. Why would they want the embarrassment of associating themselves with such people? Better to use the publicity generated by this episode to increase their profile and recruit more members. That was the only purpose of their turning up to the protests that took place the other week.
Of course, whether they like it or not, SA is just another rotten sect, incapable of communicating in a healthy manner with the working class - or, for that matter, its own membership. After 30 years of ceaseless activity they boast a mere 600 members in Britain. Militant had 8,000 at its height, and even that was not enough to secure it lasting influence. The glory days of the Grantite clique are well behind it.
I encourage everyone to read what Dennis Tourish, Louis Proyect, Janja Lalich, Steven Hassan and various others have written on the subject of political cults. It should prove instructive in getting the left to break with its counterproductive methods of political organisation.
Long live SEP!
I very much agree with comrade Wiley. The political and theoretical bankruptcy of the Grantites of Socialist Appeal, with their craven submission to petty bourgeois class forces under the guise of neo-Pabloite ‘entryism’, has been laid bare by their farcical second expulsion from the Labour Party.
By contrast, the growing Rank and File Committee movement, despite increasingly desperate denial from the pseudo-left Pabloite revisionist renegades, is striking fear into the hearts of the global imperialist monopoly bourgeoisie. Global capitalism - now more than 80 years into its terminal death agony - can only be transcended through the fulfilment of the objective historical revolutionary role of the class-conscious proletariat.
The emancipation of the proletariat must be the act of the proletariat itself - under the sole leadership, of course, of the one true world party of socialist revolution - the International Committee of the Fourth International. In their steadfast struggle against all forms of pseudo-left vulgarisations of revolutionary Marxism, David North and the Socialist Equality Party have won the rank-and-file proletariat to a genuine Marxist programme.
The contradictions of global imperialism threaten a third world war fought with nuclear weapons, and therefore the fate of not just the working class, but the human species itself, depends on resolutely exposing the Pabloites, Grantites, Taaffites, Cliffites, Healyites, Hansenites, Macnairites, Mandelites, Steinerites and all other forms of counterrevolutionary opportunism blocking the path to planetary proletarian revolution.
We urge all workers, youth and intellectuals stirred by this call to action to unite in Rank and File Committees and to contact the International Committee today.
Taaffe was right
In the continuing shift to the right in the Labour Party (which I myself have now left, along with many others), there is no let-up in expulsions.
Socialist Appeal, who are appealing against their expulsion last month after their membership of Labour for more than 50 years, was seen as posing little threat to Labour, being nothing more than a pressure group sticking it out inside the party, having split with Militant, which was led by Peter Taaffe. Never being anything more than a fringe campaigning group naively trying to halt the rightwing capitalist influence on Labour and the party’s shameful sellout of working class members, SA’s efforts are finally over if their appeal fails later on in the year.
Peter Taaffe’s’ main wing of Militant were happy to leave and fight outside the party. Militant is now the Socialist Party, of course, part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, and now it seems to have been proved right in the long term (us today, you tomorrow!).
Labour used the presence of the left to excuse its election defeats - in particular this over-condemned group, which had little influence and no position in the party. But now any failure in the next election will rest clearly on the ideology which Labour now wishes to follow. If it does succeed in the next general election it will not be in the interests of the broad working class, as it will be practically indistinguishable from the Tories!
Get act together
I thought Peyman Jafari’s two articles on the unfolding Iranian Revolution of 1978-79 were absolutely excellent, thought-provoking and stimulating (‘The Imam, the strikers and the black, black oil’, August 5; and ‘Centrality of class independence’, August 12).
In a previous letter to the Weekly Worker (March 4), I argued that there are many lessons from the Iranian Revolution - the last great popular democratic revolution in modern times - for the socialist revolution in Britain, despite some obvious differences between the two countries. The need for working people with the support of socialists, communists and other revolutionaries to build up grassroots structures, organisations and formations of mass, popular power, independent from the bourgeois state, came across very strongly in Jafari’s articles.
It is also important to develop really practical and relevant structures and organisation to enable us to manage and address the critical issues in our neighbourhoods and communities. The immediate community response to the Grenfell disaster, providing food, shelter and other basics for all those affected, was, for example, inspirational in this respect, while the response of the state was woeful.
We must always stress the importance of the class independence of these structures - working people’s self-organisation and development of the capacity to start to govern ourselves independent of the bourgeois state. We must also have clearly in our minds the longer-term aim of developing conditions of dual power and the creation of an alternative to help us overthrow the whole of the bourgeois state apparatus and replace it by one completely subordinate to, run by and in the interests of working people.
The weakness of the socialist and revolutionary left in Iran and therefore the ability of Khomeini’s religious movement to divert, absorb and take over many of the emerging basic organisations and structures within working class neighbourhoods, communities and workplaces also has lessons for Britain. The UK left is also extremely weak, hopelessly divided and fragmented, and lacks influence and impact on civic and political society.
I think it is highly likely we may see a classic popular democratic revolution in Britain in the next 20 years or so, but, given the weakness of the revolutionary left, this is extremely unlikely to be explicitly socialist or communist. Who knows what may trigger such an upheaval? It could be climate change; contempt and disgust for the corrupt political class; energy and/or food shortages; a further health crisis; escalating industrial action involving new groups of workers for the first time, hitting key pinch points in the economy and society; a reaction to the brutality of state forces in specific circumstances, which seize the popular imagination (there was a sense of this over the police attack on the Sarah Everard vigil, as well as significant mobilisation around the need to protect women and girls); or something else altogether.
I think one of the key lessons from Iran is that the left may well be a minority within a big national upheaval and will need to compete patiently, diplomatically, democratically, but firmly with all sorts of other groups, tendencies and movements. It will need to do this within the range of formations produced by working people in the struggle for all forms of political, economic and social rights, to govern, manage and defend our communities, workplaces and unions, to seek to win influence within them, prior, during and following any such upheaval.
And, yes, such independent and self-managed structures and formations will need to include the capacity to defend working class people and communities from the violence of the bourgeois state and to keep people safe from all forms of crime, including violence against women and girls.
The socialist left can aspire to influence the direction of any such popular democratic national revolution and to be key political powers within a post-revolutionary regime and state apparatus - relying on its bases within the working masses and within the alternative structures of working class independence (hopefully the basis of the new post-revolutionary state power). The more respect and standing members of the socialist left can build among members of their communities and throughout the range of organisations of independent working people’s popular power, through their hard work, selflessness, focus, discipline and practicality, the greater the influence they will exert on the content and direction of the revolutionary process.
I would love there to be a single mass Communist Party or a large mass socialist party of working people, uniting the great majority of left political groups, along with trade unions, community groups and other progressive campaigning organisations. But we have to recognise where we are now and have a strategy to get from here to where we need to be. And I don’t think the sort of great national popular upheaval I suspect will happen in the not too far distant future will wait for the left to get our collective acts together.
Eddie Ford makes some pertinent points on the climate crisis and the role of the capitalist state (‘At the tipping point’, August 5). But I would go further than what he wrote about the distortion of value relations as a result of state intervention during the two world wars.
I would say that value relations have been distorted pretty much throughout the capitalist era. The state has long played a role in guaranteeing profitable accumulation, whenever deemed necessary, and capitalists themselves have distorted value relations by manipulating the market with monopolies and joint-stock companies, not to mention by downright chicanery.
The 20th century saw capitalist governments mobilise their economy in order to fight inter-imperialist wars, again distorting value relations. Indeed, Eddie writes that during World War II, the British government even “temporarily suspended the law of value and produced on the basis of need”. He then asks if this might be done in order to deal with the looming climate crisis.
The key word here is “temporarily”. The day-to-day distortion of value relations under capitalism has taken place to preserve them as a whole: that is, to guarantee the existence of an economic system based upon profitable capital accumulation. But this is not a severe distortion. I very much doubt that value relations can be severely distorted or suspended for more than just a short period without causing severe damage to profitable capital accumulation and thus to the capitalist economy as a whole. The two world wars lasted just a few years, and it is a moot point as to whether value relations were actually suspended, as opposed to restricted, during that time. Governments had the clear purpose of obtaining a military victory: that is, a foreseeable end was expected within a relatively short time. Dealing with the climate crisis will be a much longer job.
Now, value relations can be suppressed entirely, as in the Soviet Union and China. This, however, is essentially restricted to large, underdeveloped countries possessing huge material and human resources, a weak or non-existent bourgeoisie, and a national leadership willing and able to exert maximum power over society and to drive forward at all costs a process of primary accumulation. However, a return to the market eventually becomes necessary, as we have seen in China and Russia. So, even here, taking a country outwith value relations is, in the longer term, a temporary measure. Moreover, this is essentially concerned with the early stages of an industrial society, rather than dealing with factors impacting upon the whole world, including the many countries that have long passed the period of primary accumulation.
The central question facing the capitalist classes of the world is whether the ‘greening’ of their economy can take place within the context of profitable capital accumulation. Capitalism is, above all, production for profit. Other than in short periods of wartime emergency, new technology has been introduced to raise productivity and thereby increase surplus value.
‘Greening’ the economy envisages not piecemeal retooling, but the far-reaching reshaping of the entire production process, from obtaining raw materials to distributing finished goods - not for reasons of profitable accumulation, but to deal with the climate crisis. This is something unprecedented in the history of capitalism, and raises some fundamental questions:
- Can the various new or replacement non-polluting or lesser-polluting commodities be produced and sold on a profitable basis?
- Can existing agricultural and industrial processes that are profitable but environmentally damaging be replaced by environmentally friendly ones that are profitable?
- Can individual companies and nation-states actually transcend the competitiveness immanent to capitalism and enter into long-term cooperative relationships, taking into account that the effects of the climate crisis might well increase international tensions and competition rather than encourage cooperation?
- How long can the state distort value relations through subsidising unprofitable, environmentally friendly production, before the need for profitable accumulation imperiously imposes itself by way of an economic crisis caused by declining profitability?
Eddie Ford’s piece starts off with a few ‘shock horror’ observations on weather events - without any attempt to check from a range of available commentators as to whether each, any or all are as exceptional as his ‘sources’ maintain. Such a range might include Paul Homewood’s blog, Not a lot of people know that, and perhaps Homewood’s own sources as well as his analyses. There are others.
There has been a discernible change in how the media reports unusual or extreme weather - usually linking it now to human activity - and there have been various stories about how 2021 is going to be the hottest and wettest ever year. This is in the context of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (Cop26) to be held in Glasgow, beginning October 31. In preparation for that huge gathering of presidents, government ministers, top climate scientists and officially approved do-gooders, there is the ongoing preparation of the sixth report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
What needs to be emphasised about the IPCC is that the clue is in the name: it is a governmental panel. While climate scientists draw up the initial report and provide the raw material, it is government officials who go over it with a fine-tooth comb - putting all sorts of doubts and caveats into the text, which the scientists are normally very unhappy with. There is clearly a tension then between what the scientists are reporting and projecting - saying what needs to be done - and what governments are willing to commit themselves to.
What Eddie does not seem to heed is the political-bureaucratic nature of the relation between governments and research organisations. What is his basis for his bland assumption that the “doubts and caveats of governments” point to, or rely on, scientific reservations rather than headline-seeking - or standard budgetary/pork-barrel - squabbles? Do not research organisations depend heavily on government funding and therefore on compliance with headline-seeking? Moreover, ‘peer’ review is all too often just that - mutual back-scratching by cronies.
AW Montford’s books give excellent examples of such back-scratching and its effects - most notoriously, the ‘hockey-stick’ fiasco, with its desperate attempts to deny the Medieval (and perhaps the Roman) Warm Periods, and I believe, the polar bear ‘crisis’ (there is a danger of extinction, as that bear population increases - perhaps beyond sustainability!).
None of the above is or assists a defence of capitalism. The case against capitalism can stand independently of petty bourgeois hysteria, can it not?
As someone with a background in the quantitative sciences, I have to say that the session on climate change at Communist University was uncharacteristically amateurish, ill-informed and confused. Unfortunately it appeared to be driven more by the sort of outraged liberalism that the CPGB rightly criticises in organisations like the Socialist Workers Party than by any scientific evidence.
If the CPGB really does wish to understand the science and political economy of climate change, I strongly urge it to engage the services of an expert like Simon Pirani to lead a discussion on the subject in the near future. I would also suggest that, if they haven’t done so already, the Provisional Central Committee familiarise themselves with Simon Pirani’s book, Burning up: A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption (2018).
Both CU and Online Communist Forums have rightly recognised the importance of having experts to lead debates on such topics as the political economy of the post-1949 Chinese regime. How is it the topic of climate change does not deserve to be treated with the same degree of seriousness?
Michael Roberts correctly dismisses the Austrian School’s ‘natural rate of interest’, but implicitly replaces it with his own ‘natural rate of profit’ - above which accumulation increases and below which it falls (‘Profits first and foremost’, August 5). There is no ‘natural rate of interest’, because there is no ‘natural rate of profit’. Capital is not the product of labour, and so has no value or price of production.
Roberts’ theory is Ricardian, not Marxian. Marx explains that it is competition, not profitability, that drives accumulation. Capital must accumulate or die, whether the rate of profit is rising or falling, because efficiency is a function of the scale of production. It’s that which ultimately pushes accumulation to the point of overaccumulation, and crises of overproduction (see Capital volume 3, chapter 39).
Ricardo, like Roberts, argued that a farmer who had £1,000 would not invest it in their farm if it would produce less than the average profit. Marx shows this is wrong. To accumulate capital it’s only necessary to make a sufficient margin over the rate of interest, or return on other assets. The rate of profit is always significantly higher than the rate of interest. Investing it in some new land, Marx says, might involve costs, and represents extensive rather than the intensive methods that capital favours. Lending it at interest would mean accepting a lower return from the start.
The same applies to industrial production: “Then, from the outset, [the capitalist] forgoes at least a half or a third of the usual profit. Hence, if he can invest it as additional capital on the old farm, even below the average rate of profit ... then he will still be gaining 100% if the rate of interest is 5%” (Theories of surplus value chapter 13).
The law of the tendency for the rate of profit to fall, which Roberts relies upon, is an explanation of why capital accumulates faster in some higher-profit spheres. It is not an explanation of higher or lower capital accumulation in total. The cause of falling profits within each cycle is a squeeze on profits, resulting from changes in the value composition of capital - rising material costs, rising wages - whereas the law of the tendency for the rate of profit to fall is based upon changes in the technical, and thereby organic, composition of capital, which measures changes in the average rate of profit between cycles. If Roberts’ theory were correct, there should be continually falling capital accumulation over time, corresponding to a continually falling rate of profit. That does not happen.
Roberts’ description of the interest rate cycle is crude and wrong. He says the rate of interest is highest when the rate of profit is highest, and lowest during slumps, which he conflates with crises. Marx says it’s highest during crises, lowest during the period of stagnation, but also during the period of a high rate of profit and prosperity (Capital volume 3, chapter 22).
The rate of interest is low during the period of prosperity, when the rate of profit is high and the economy is expanding, because it results in higher realised profits, providing an increased supply of loanable money-capital, and because it encourages businesses to increase the provision of commercial credit, reducing the demand for currency and bank credit. The rate of interest rises when the economy starts to boom and profits start to get squeezed, because competition forces capital to accumulate faster, which requires more borrowing. It reaches its peak when that squeeze on profits results in crises of overproduction, as firms now demand cash and stop providing commercial credit, and must borrow to cover their payments and stay afloat.
Roberts’ theory implies a self-regulating model of capitalism like that of the Austrians. If accumulation slows when the rate of profit falls below some mystical ‘natural rate of profit’, there will be no overaccumulation and crisis of overproduction, because, even with the normal rise in social productivity, the labour supply will rise faster than employment, forcing wages back down, while profits will rise above the ‘natural rate of profit’. He can’t tell us what this rate is, because it doesn’t exist.
Today, the driver of the law of the tendency for the rate of profit to fall - technological change that increases the proportion of raw material cost in final output - cannot operate, because 80% of economies involve service industry, not the processing of materials. This explains the formation of prices of production and movement of capital between spheres, but does not imply any long-term fall in the rate of profit, let alone crises resulting from it.
For the last decade Roberts has forecast the onset of a new slump that never came, until one was deliberately induced by government diktat in response to Covid paranoia. Even last year, he predicted a “post-Covid slump”, as a result of profits being crushed. Profits were crushed, but, when restrictions were lifted, far from a slump, there has been a rampant boom, driving rapid capital accumulation, sharply rising commodity price inflation and rising interest rates, as borrowing increased.
Reality contradicts Roberts’ theory. In the 1960s the rate of profit was being squeezed by a rising wage share. According to Roberts, this should have meant declining capital accumulation and economic growth. Between 1950 and 1960 US gross domestic product rose by 41%, but between 1960 and 1970 by 51%. Even in the period of crisis between 1970 and 1980 it rose by 37%. The period from the early 1980s was a period of falling wage share and rising rate of profit. That should mean rising accumulation and growth, according to Roberts, but between 1980 and 1990, US GDP rose by 37% - virtually no different than during the period of crisis of the 1970s. In the period 1990-2000 the figure was 40%: ie, considerably below the 1960s, when wage share was rising and profits were being squeezed. In other words, the exact opposite of what should be the case, according to Roberts’ theory.
I was a bit surprised to read in Mike Belbin’s piece on China that Confucius “did not believe in gods” (‘Modernisation with typical characteristics’, July 22).
Because he didn’t talk much about them (in the sayings that have come down to us, the ‘Analects’) doesn’t necessarily imply that he didn’t believe in them. Confucius presented his way as a return to the traditions of the ‘former kings’, Yao and Shun, and I think that wasn’t just a propaganda pitch: he genuinely believed the ancient ways were better, and he constantly emphasised the importance of ritual (li, equivalent to ‘the done thing’), which would involve reverence for the ancestors and ‘heaven’ (tien).
We should note, however, that VI, 26 concerns Confucius’s visit to Nan-tzu - described by Arthur Waley as “the wicked concubine of Duke Ling of Wei”. This visit was deplored by his follower, Tzu-lu: “Whereupon the Master made a solemn declaration concerning his visit, saying, ‘Whatsoever I have done amiss, may Heaven avert it!’” (An alternative translation is ‘May Heaven strike me!’).
For us contemporary western readers, Confucius’s sayings are pleasantly free of religious zeal, in stark contrast to the bulk of ancient Indian philosophy, such as the ‘Laws of Manu’, where religion is most definitely ‘in your face’. This seems ultimately a reflexion of the clash between Aryan incomers and the sub-continent’s ancient Dravidian inhabitants.
So, according to Esen Uslu, the state in Turkey starts fires in Dersim to deny cover to guerrillas and prevents attempts to put the fires out. It incites violence against the large Kurdish minority, using them as scapegoats, with armed gangs assaulting them. At the same time fires are deliberately started with state and police connivance to clear space, so hotels can be built (‘Unnatural disaster’, August 5).
Yet the Weekly Worker vigorously defends such a state against the perfectly rational claim that it is fascist.