Separate garrets

I’m writing in response to Stan Keable’s account of the Labour Against the Witchhunt all-members meeting held on August 28 (‘Continue the fight’, September 2). Two proposals were up for discussion: to urge the left to stay in the Labour Party; or, alternatively, to give up on Labour and seek to form a new socialist party. With apologies to the proposers for truncating their arguments, the essential point each was making was that, on the one hand, previous attempts to form a new mass party had failed and would do so again; and, on the other hand, that the left would never gain control of the Labour Party.

What if both arguments were right? That would be Catch 22. With that in mind, and not wanting to let Evans and co auto-exclude me, I’m going to sign this letter with a false name.

Let’s look at the arguments. Attempts to find the correct way forward by founding a new party have indeed failed. In Dubliners one of James Joyce’s characters attended meetings of the Socialist Party, which were being held in a garret: “When the party had divided into three sections, each under its own leader and in its own garret, he had discontinued his attendances.” In the intervening 100 years the number of ‘leaders in garrets’ has only increased. A good thing about garret living is that sometimes one can see a long way - unfortunately many leaders think that what they’re looking into is the future. But the big drawback of garret life is that whatever is said up there isn’t being heard in the street below.

At the same time there is something incongruous about wanting others to stay in a party that you’ve been thrown out of. That particular Marxian dialectic seems to owe more to Groucho than to Karl, I’m afraid. Comrade Stan doesn’t say what the objective is for “maintaining LAW’s orientation towards the Labour Party”. He lists a number of activities he’s got planned, but never the purpose. I’m left with the impression that he just thinks there’s better fishing in a pool of disgruntled Labourites, than in beach casting into an ebbing tide of the disillusioned. In other words, he’s just trying to get a few more people to come along to his garret.

Comrade Stan’s warnings about the difficulty in establishing a new party when the electoral system is ‘first past the post’ is a good point. But surely that’s an argument for proportional representation rather than against a new party. ‘First past the post’ is the glue that holds the unstable Labour ‘broad church’ together. If it were replaced by proportional representation, the centrifugal forces in Labour would separate out the more, and less, reformist groupings.

In his motion to the meeting comrade Stan characterised any new party as “a broad left amalgam of lowest-common-denominator consensus”, as if that’s obviously a bad thing. While it’s true that history shows the failure of popular fronts, it also shows the failure of purged and principled parties. The lessons of history have not passed the working class by. And there is a widely held belief that - to bring Ambrose Bierce’s dictum up to date - ‘a conservative is one who is enamoured of existing evils, as distinguished from the communist, who wishes to replace them with others’. Hundreds of thousands of people were enthused by the prospect of electing Corbyn as Labour leader, not because they supported his programme (he hadn’t got one), but because voting for him was putting two fingers up to the Labour establishment. Corbyn turned out to be an ineffectual ditherer and he can be blamed for a lot of things, but he can’t be blamed for the left’s failure to make more of that initial enthusiastic belief in the possibility of change.

The lowest common denominator - one that unites angry party members and those that have left - is hostility towards the Starmer/Evans version of Labour. If the forthcoming conference consolidates their efforts to re-establish Labour as reliable caretakers of capitalism, what then? Surely any socialist or communist would want to prevent Starmer’s Labour Party from winning elections. A broad left amalgam of lowest-common-denominator consensus - let’s call such a party ‘The Reds’, as all the best names have been taken - should stand against Labour wherever possible. Whatever the shortcomings would be in its socialist programme, a central demand would have to be for proportional representation. The social forces that brought the Labour Party into existence have long since disappeared, but their creature remains, stifling all expression of hope for a better world. Proportional representation is the only way to finish off this zombie.

The main argument against a new socialist party fighting for proportional representation, it seems to me, is that every occupant of every garret would want their vision to be adopted before agreeing to join in, rather than joining in to prise the dead hand of Labour off our collective mouths and then seeking to win the argument in the creative babel that might follow.

All I can say is: ‘Get out of your garrets. You have nothing to lose, but there’s a world to be won.’

Tom Conwell

Going North

I read Mark Matterhorn’s letter (September 2, headed ‘Long live SEP!’) with some surprise. It seemed to me to be a satirical piece (I’m still not sure about that), with its claims about the rest of the left’s “craven submission to petty bourgeois class forces” and the idea that the Socialist Equality Party, together with its international followers, “despite increasingly desperate denial from the pseudo-left Pabloite revisionist renegades, is striking fear into the hearts of the global imperialist monopoly bourgeoisie”. It seemed to ring a distant bell. Even more so when I read that “David North and the Socialist Equality Party have won the rank-and-file proletariat to a genuine Marxist programme”.

I was in the Workers Revolutionary Party when it started breaking up in 1985. The initial split was between supporters of Gerry Healy, including the famous Redgraves, and those disgusted by his treatment of women in the party. Cliff Slaughter, one of the anti-Healy leaders, warned at the time that the party could break into a thousand pieces. Lots of non-cadre very sensibly just walked away, but over the next year or two there were further splits - in both camps, as far as I know.

The first split on the anti-Healy side was between a majority, including Slaughter, the Banda brothers and many more (including incidentally me), and a minority led by supporters of Dave North. He had spoken at an early post-split conference and, as I recall it, asked comrades to pledge loyalty to the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI). I think there was a majority for that, but over the next few days it became clear that North saw himself as the new leader.

He also seemed to think that we would believe that he was a more or less innocent bystander in the Healy international, possibly even a victim. However, many of us were well aware that he had attended meetings and conferences at the side of Healy and was just as much a worshipper at the feet - in fact a leading worshipper at the feet - as Healy’s so-called accomplices.

Most of us were not willing to replace Healy with North - apart from anything else, we felt that we had a lot to think about and to discuss. But there was a bloc that went along with him. At the time I thought that this was really a bloc of comrades who were determined to break with Healy (this was not surprising, as it included some of his victims and their relatives), but wanted to carry on with the politics. A new, true, clean ICFI!

And it seems they are still at it. Comrade Matterhorn ends his letter: “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.” He also mentions the ‘Healyites’ among those to be “exposed” and I see that they too have an ICFI. Two ICFIs - what could possibly go wrong?

It does look like another Trotskyist sect: ‘Join us, trust us. When there’s enough of us, we’ll have a revolution - we just have to drive out the counterrevolutionaries hiding in our midst!’ No programme mentioned that I could see.

Jim Nelson

Gender nonsense

Reading Amanda MacLean’s reply to Richard Farnos and Finlay Scott Gilmore was very depressing (‘Sex is not psyche’, May 9 2019). I can only think of that marvellous quote from Karl Marx in Capital volume 1: “The insipid flatness of our present bourgeoisie may be measured by the altitude of its great intellects.” Perhaps the word ‘bourgeoisie’ should be replaced by ‘Marxists’ or ‘leftists’.

Denigrating the body and its realities is a holdover of patriarchal religion, no matter whether one thinks one is religious or not. Men designed a system whereby they could project their own animal natures onto women and children and lesser men, and consequently fancy themselves as rational-thinking intellects. We are animals and our biology matters a great deal - particularly for women, who must deal with their bodily reality on a daily basis.

I did not have an illegal abortion at age 16 because I identified as a woman; I did not have pelvic inflammatory disease because I am ‘cisgender’ (what a bloody insulting term). Working class and poor women must deal constantly with what men and their societies do to women’s bodies and they cannot identify their way out of womanhood and their oppression.

That said, gender - the performance of masculinity and femininity - has nothing much to do with biological truth. I have yet to meet a single radical feminist or feminist ally who cares one whit if a man wants to wear a dress or a woman wants to be a welder. However, wearing a dress does not make one a woman; having gender reassignment surgery does not make one a woman; screaming ‘Transwomen are women’ does not make one a woman (and is, in fact, typical male aggression).

It is hard to believe that anyone with critical analysis who believes Marx was correct in emphasising material reality would buy into the utter nonsense that is genderist ideology.

Susan Elizabeth Siens
Maine, USA


Chris Gray questions my statement that Confucius did not believe in the gods (Letters, September 2). This requires us to discuss a little the Chinese sense of religion and (secular) philosophy.

I’m glad Chris agrees that the most influential Confucian text of all - the ‘Analects’ - isn’t a theological work. This indicates that Confucius, while no idol smasher, seemed not to have faith in the idea that reverence for immortals was enough.

To quote Pengcheng Zhang (University of California): “What Confucianism is concerned about is how to live your life properly. To be a good person, to serve your family and your nation.” Heaven gets a mention too: “Confucius himself frequently invoked the term ‘heaven’. But this concept is very abstract. The Chinese [written] character is translated as ‘heaven’ in this case, which seems to give it a religious overtone. But this character is the exact same character the Chinese use for ‘sky’, which would be a neutral description of nature”.

Chinese culture is indeed less theological (saints, avatars), because beneath all that exists is ‘the Way’, the Tao (or Dao) - the life force within the cosmic order. In Confucian temples meanwhile there are few images of the philosopher and the emphasis is on honouring his teachings.

In saying ‘May heaven strike me’, our thinker might have just been being polite, falling into a traditional saying so as not to antagonise his upper class listeners. Heaven forbid! But like Xi Jinping his concern was with behaviour and hierarchy on Earth - which is probably why the Chinese Communist Party is allowing Confucianism to be promoted now.

Mike Belbin

Continued war?

So where do we go from here? Where do we even begin to unravel the pain, sorrow and hardship Afghans have endured for decades?

A 20-year invasion and occupation, costing an estimated $2 trillion, alongside countless allied and Afghan deaths, have finally ended, with the American humiliating retreat on August 31. So what next for Afghanistan? Well, I fear more violence, destabilisation, death and destruction.

With the Taliban now back in charge, amid claims they want to pursue national reconciliation with the Northern Alliance, who would benefit from the disruption of this initiative? American troops may well have left Afghanistan, but the economic cooperation policies pursued by China and Russia may yet see a new proxy war. Aimed at the Taliban government, in reality it will be yet another war against Russian and now Chinese economic cooperation in the region.

While Nato and America pursue a military dominance in a hegemonic, unipolar world order, Russia, China and increasingly many others, from Iran to Venezuela, could pursue a cooperative, multipolar, mutually beneficial economic strategy. America will use every vestige of influence, along with the European Union, to destroy, destabilise and attack the new Belt and Road initiative led by China and supported by most Eurasian and African countries.

The war on terror is nothing more than a capitalist-imperialist attack on democracy and the freedom of sovereign nations, led by those who claim to cherish democracy and freedom. Yet they continually bomb, invade and impose sanctions. They murder, displace and maim millions, all in the name of ‘humanitarian intervention’.

I fear Afghanistan will not see peace and stability. I fully expect the Northern Alliance and now al Qa’eda in Afghanistan (IS-K) to be directed by America to disrupt the Belt and Road initiative, resulting in continued war in the region.

Fra Hughes