Stay and fight
Today we are facing the worst political climate since the height of Thatcher’s state-sanctioned attack on pit communities, which resulted in the 1984-85 Great Strike, and the decade that followed, with the crippling decimation of industrial communities and what remained of an exhausted class struggle at the dawn of Blairism. In the late 80s and early 90s, entire communities, following the prop forward of the trade union movement’s demise in the splintering of the National Union of Mineworkers, under intolerable conditions inflicted by every facet of the state apparatus, were left fighting for their lives.
So there is nothing more frustrating than to witness in today’s terms a complete lack of class-consciousness. It is hard to envisage, following 10 years of enforced Tory austerity, through to the referendum of 2016, where any point of resistance can manifest successfully, or where it is coming from organisationally, with such a fragmented state of disarray crippling ‘the left’. Any semblance of class-consciousness that can rally against the forces intent on overseeing its ideological eradication from mainstream politics needs to be robust enough to counterpunch.
Historically, there have only been two organisations that have provided real resistance to the British state in the last 100 years: the NUM and the IRA. Both have shown great skill and tenacity administratively, militarily and through organisation, politically, where they have successfully exacted a degree of constitutional influence in defence of their communities.
In this context, it is more than frustrating to read of comrades whose debate - as politely robust, albeit vociferously conducted, as it may appear on paper in these pages - ends in constant squabbling (over at times, minutiae over interpretations of policy) and who appear content to continually hack themselves to death, without actually agreeing a consensus of how to move forward collectively, intact as a movement.
At the present time it is utterly self-defeating to continue under the banner of so many organisations if their steering committees cannot agree a consensus. What hope is there? Can this happen at some stage soon, please, within the upper echelons of various steering groups, in order to apply the full weight of pressure where it is required most: in the faces of Starmer, Evans and the Labour right at party conference, without this airing of laundry for all and sundry? To achieve this, with all guns blazing into a firefight that could effectively rattle cages to harness real, lasting progress, then it is the likes of Tony Greenstein - both combatively in person through debating, and in the pages of the Weekly Worker, and through his other media work, and political activism - who have to be onboard and part of the continued organisational challenges ahead; and this at a time when Labour Against the Witchhunt’s collective efforts to defeat the weaponisation of anti-Semitism, and to defend those suspended and expelled from the Labour Party, find their membership increasing, and the force of their influence gaining traction - reasons to be positive!
Tony Greenstein is a valued and respected comrade, but has he considered that he may be wrong, because at the present time it does incalculable harm if the collective effort is undermined. He announces that the struggle in the Labour Party and the battleground surrounding it is “facing terminal defeat” at such a critical time - when Starmer’s right are lapping it up and from a position of weakness! The movement needs all the skill sets available and fighting fit, including Tony Greenstein’s, even if he may feel the horse has bolted, and that requires more than ever strategic organisation and cooperation in the best interests of the collective, and the organisation required to effect change.
Stan Keable of Labour Party Marxists, in his report of Labour Against the Witchhunt’s August 28 all-members meeting that Tony Greenstein responded to, provided those members and Weekly Worker readers who could not attend (or who aren’t members) a concisely succinct report that encapsulated all the present strategic arguments that urgently require a collectively agreed consensus across all left platforms, as conference fast approaches:
“In the face of the coming storm, the strategy document sets out LAW’s resolve to ‘step up our campaign’ with a nine-point plan, including working in the trade unions by ‘making links with principled leaders and left causes’, and linking up with those internationally ‘fighting back against the witch-hunt’” (‘Continue the fight’, September 2).
I can only presume through my own reading of it that Stan was exasperated by Tony Greenstein’s question, ‘Where do we go from here?’ - after the national constitutional committee had been sidelined and the possibility that those facing expulsion could challenge their accusers had been removed - as “simply childish” and presumably counterproductive, because Tony Greenstein wants to disassociate from Labour altogether: “socialists in trade unions should argue for disaffiliation from a party that is now part of the neoliberal consensus,” he writes.
Well, I would like to appeal to Tony Greenstein not to turn his back on what is required in the months ahead by stating that “the battle against the witch-hunt has been lost”. This is an opinion he has expressed individually, which does not necessarily align with fellow comrades who have been left, voluntarily or not (if they have been suspended or expelled), to take the fight forward.
There is much to fight for and it goes without saying we need as many comrades on board, within and outside the Labour Party. And maintaining a democratically united, strategic, organisational leadership that is fit for purpose, would greatly enhance the cause.
Arthur Bough’s response to Michael Roberts is built purely on logical foundations, even if the logic is suspect (Letters, September 2). Bough does not apply any historicity into his argument at all: for example the role of imperialism. He is a man trapped in a closed system, who seems incapable of applying any real-world conditions to his ‘logic’.
He writes: “Marx explains that it is competition, not profitability, that drives accumulation.” But, as Marx explains, capitalist competition is a phenomenon of the difference between the value and the cost price of a commodity. Therefore, the potentiality for different levels of profitability drives competition, which drives accumulation. Competition simply regulates the rate of profit and prices of production, among other things.
“To accumulate capital it’s only necessary to make a sufficient margin over the rate of interest, or return on other assets.” Interest, under the capitalist mode of production, is reliant and dependent on profit. Therefore, there is no logical foundation for the above statement, because the relation between accumulation and interest does not operate in such a way. Capitalism never encounters such a general condition as this statement implies.
What Marx did show was that under capitalism accumulation is inevitable, because capitalist production can never operate under conditions where S = 0. Therefore, there is always a profit somewhere between the value and the cost price. The reason, therefore, that capitalists accumulate has nothing to do with competition or interest, but is related to the social condition in which the labourer finds itself.
More could be said, but Bough is just too tiresome.
Susan Elizabeth Siens writes: “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” (Letters, September 9). As if history proceeds along such calculating lines!
Assuming for a minute it does and only in the interests of revealing the absurdities, the question then is, how is this so-called designed system of patriarchy by men (who are not lesser men) to be undermined? Is it by women, lesser men and children combining to design a different system and then, once designed, simply waving the magic wand and - hey presto - society is no longer a system built on the designs of the alpha males? I presume this is the opposite of lesser men.
Or do the women, lesser men and children go cap in hand and beg the alpha males to design a new system, which sort of balances things out a bit and allows women, lesser men and children to assert their animal natures?
On this point, I would have thought that allowing women ‘freedom over their own bodies’ would be a positive for the alpha males, given that women are naturally attracted to them? I mean, whenever has an alpha male found it difficult to project their animal natures onto women? Alpha males are alpha males because women select them as such. Surely lesser men will suffer if women are allowed the freedom to pursue their animal natures?
Therefore, we could easily say that feminism is a project of alpha males and females to cast out lesser men to the margins of society, and ensure the supremacy for the children of the alpha males and their women - seems like every bit as good a narrative as the one Susan Elizabeth Siens has dreamed up.
She writes: “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 ... screaming ‘Transwomen are women’ does not make one a woman.”
Doesn’t transgender undermine feminism by resolving the alienation of men in something other than the value of women? Doesn’t it undermine the value of women somewhat that men can find recourse to their alienation by means other than obsessing directly over women, and instead take on the form of women themselves? Isn’t this why feminism does indeed fear the man in the dress, and explain the alarm of feminism over the obsession with transgenderism?
Comrade Siens offered us a fairly stock contribution from one side of gender debate (or should I say echo chamber?). Heavily emphasised though was a particular portrayal of ‘Marxist’ materialism, one that Marx and Engels would have labelled ‘shallow’ and ‘vulgar’ in their day. According to the comrade, all the intricacies of sex and gender can be boiled down to mere “biological truth” - “We are all animals” and that is all that counts. The solution lay in your high school textbooks all along!
Whilst we understand the primacy of matter, and that thoughts are but a reflection of the material world in one’s head, we cannot deny that ideas can influence and shape the world outside. Our materialism is dialectical.
Ideology (in this case trans-genderism) offers us a useful tool of analysis, an aspect of the truth of society that is then reflected in a distorted form. Our job as Marxists is not simply to reject this half-truth out of hand, but to use it to better our scientific understanding, so that we might be more equipped and successful in our attempts to change society.
Since comrade Siens is in the business of quoting Capital, allow me to invoke a famous passage on the critique of a well-known German idealist: “With him it is standing on its head. It must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.”
The ideological shell of trans-genderism may indeed be mystical, but deep within lies an invaluable truth about how the dialectical dynamics of class society mediate the inequalities between the sexes (patriarchy) and class. For very different reasons, I also disagree with this ideology, but to label what is for millions their only source of comfort and understanding in the world as “utter nonsense” does not do Marxism any favours in my book. We are simply shooting ourselves in the foot.
Likewise the comrade’s definition of gender itself as “the performance of masculinity and femininity” leaves us wanting. If this “has nothing much to do with biological truth” as we are told, what then defines these non-biological notions of masculinity and femininity? Are they purely abstract and transhistorical?
Whilst many so-called Marxists tell us all about what they are against on this issue, they seldom give us an explanation of what they are for. Whatever our critique of trans-genderism may be, right or wrong, we need a positive communist vision for these oppressed peoples. Do we need to include gender liberation in our understanding of human liberation? If so, how? Could we ‘solve’ the trans ‘problem’ with mere facts and logic? Is it a ‘bourgeois disease’ that will be superseded after the socialist revolution? Should comrades just ignore this ‘reactionary’ topic altogether?
I would greatly appreciate it if any so-called radical/Marxist/gender-critical feminist comrade could give me a serious Marxist answer as to their vision for the liberation of this oppressed group.
Aaron Kyereh-Mireku encourages reading Dennis Tourish, Louis Proyect, Janja Lalich, Steven Hassan on the subject of political cults (Letters, September 2). To add to this, I suggest reading ‘The left is not a church’ (April 28 2018) by Benjamin Studebaker about the Democratic Socialists of America and the follow-up articles on Studebaker’s blog.
He argues that the left is a political movement that is about winning power and using power to help people, but that, for some others, the left is a substitute for going to church for spiritual self-actualisation rather than changing the world. It is a social club with a moral cause, where people feel like they’re part of something and nothing more. Heretics are shunned, shamed or abused or, failing that, purged.
As a matter of interest, Stalin wasn’t the first or last to practise this model, but those wishing to know about his particular approach to take (and hold) power may also wish to read chapter 2 of Dictator literature: a history of bad books by terrible people (a Times Book of the Year in 2018) by Daniel Kalder. Stalin selectively edited Marx and Lenin in ‘Marxism and the national question’ (1913), The foundations of Leninism (1924) and History of the Communist Party (1938). This manipulation would only be of historical interest but for the damage that remains to this day.
Katy Morgan-Davies has given interviews about her 30 years in her father Aravindan Balakrishnan’s abusive Maoist cult in London and her escape in 2013. The 2020 documentary, The Mole: undercover in North Korea, has exposed the Korean Friendship Association. In dismissing this, perhaps supporters of Stalin in the Communist Party of Britain and the CPGB (Marxist-Leninist) will argue Stalin’s means justified the end of winning power. But sadly the end is small groups acting as cults and damaging people’s lives.
Jon D White
Tom Conwell (Letters) and Tony Greenstein (‘Facing terminal defeat’) each have a go at Stan Keable in last week’s Weekly Worker (September 9).
Comrade Conwell is clearly aiming for the sky, as he wants proportional representation. This is to be attained by standing “The Reds” as candidates “against Labour wherever possible”. So, without the assistance of what remains of the Labour Party, the left will form a government? Convince the Tories? And proportional representation will presumably aid the struggle by bringing all left sects into parliament, so that they can argue there instead of in the unions or on the streets.
Comrade Greenstein, on the other hand, wants “to create a socialist movement that encompasses people inside and outside the Labour Party, which will keep activists in the Corbyn project together, with a view to forming a distinct socialist party in the near future”. Further, “the time has come when socialists in trade unions should argue for disaffiliation from a party that is now part of the neoliberal consensus”.
One might wonder when the Labour Party failed to be “part of the neoliberal consensus”. Under Blair? Brown? Miliband? Perhaps under Kinnock? Tony fails to give us the golden age of Labour, to which the activists in the Corbyn project will return. Perhaps he just means the years between 2015 and 2019 when Corbyn led the party (or, as Tony has so eloquently shown us over all these years, failed to lead the party).
Tony scoffs at “sterile slogans about Labour and the limitations of a reformist or bourgeois workers’ party”, but, as he should know as a regular reader of the Weekly Worker, a “bourgeois workers’ party” is not a ‘sterile slogan’ for the CPGB any more than it was for Lenin.
Labour is a workers’ party: it was formed from a group of workers’ organisations initially to protect the unions in parliament. It still has, despite Starmer and the rest of the right, a few hundred thousand members. It managed to get over 10 million votes in 2019, even after Miliband, with Brown’s help, managed to lose Scotland. Many people still vote Labour if only because they hate the Tories.
However, it is a bourgeois workers’ party. It has never taken on either imperialism or capitalism and, if Starmer is now leading the party to “terminal defeat”, what about the leadership of Blair? Or Ramsay MacDonald? Again, when was the golden age of Labour?
Tony constantly refers to “the left” in his polemic - grouping, it seems to me, the ‘left’ MPs, the left in the Labour Party, Momentum and then, for good measure, the CPGB, which “is the “Catholic party of the left”, since, apparently, we base all of our hopes in the Starmer-led Labour Party.
I beg to differ. The aim of the CPGB is to overthrow capitalism by building a mass Communist Party to lead and organise the working class to accomplish that aim. Tony - and for that matter Tom - could perhaps check out the Draft programme on the CPGB website or even glance through ‘What we fight for’ in the Weekly Worker: it makes a regular appearance on page 11 of the paper (coincidently, last week, on the page opposite Tony’s piece).
Tony wants to set up a movement parallel to the Labour Party to gather all of the forces of the ‘left’ together and, as he has said in his blog (of which, by the way, I am a regular reader - it’s mostly very good), “If members of the [Socialist Campaign Group] are expelled, as seems likely, then such a party could have real weight, especially if Corbyn were to join.” Really? And this comes after an extensive excoriation of Corbyn in the same piece!
So who will lead the group with the ambition to become, one day, a party? Corbyn? Members of the SCG? What about the leaders of the unions, surely almost certain to defect? Will Unite, Unison and the GMB have the same weight in this new organisation as they do on the national executive committee and at conference in the Labour Party now? Is the group to have a programme, a structure, a leadership?
There are many more questions here, but, while Tony has a go at the CPGB (and Stan), he doesn’t give us any idea as to what he wants to emerge in the stead of Labour. It will just be ‘not-Labour’ and will gather up all the disaffected youth, and adults, who are currently being screwed by capitalism.
I must admit that I am not hopeful as to the future of the proposals of either of these comrades.
After looking at the lessons of the Iranian revolution of 1978-79, comrade Andrew Northall says he would love there to be a single mass Communist Party or a mass socialist party of the working people, uniting the great majority of left political groups, trades unions, community groups and other progressive campaigning organisations (Letters, September 2).
The comrade also says we need to recognise where we are now and have a strategy to get from here to where we need to be. Northall is definitely on the right track about what could trigger mass political changes today: for instance, the energy or climate crisis either separately or together.
However, what we need to understand is that we are facing a situation never faced by modern society or the left before. No doubt various factors can trigger a mass revolutionary change. Among the likeliest, most immediate triggers is a coming energy crisis. Unless a new source of cheap energy can be found, capitalism faces an irreversible, long-term crisis. In other words, the revolutionary process today will unfold in a period of the energy decline of capitalism, together with a climate crisis. Rising energy costs are incompatible with a system based on production for profit.
We need to address the party question on the basis of this coming potential energy crisis of capitalism. This crisis will be unprecedented and we will have to go beyond Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky and Mao to understand and deal with it. Most of the left lives in the past and do not realise that we cannot solve the coming crisis on the basis of past theories. Although a new mass communist party may be necessary, we cannot assume this as a foregone conclusion.
It would certainly be unwise to hand the present Labour Party over to the capitalist-roaders at a time when their historical role will soon be played out with the coming irreversible collapse of capitalism. It is the irreversible nature of the present crisis which makes it different from all previous crises, and guarantees that large sections of the controlling elite will be forced to abandon capitalism. In the Communist manifesto Marx argued that only a small section of the elite would abandon the system, but the irreversible nature of the present crisis turns that small section into most of them.
When the elite begin to abandon capitalism under the impact of the energy crisis, combined with the climate emergency, what will the Labour Party right do? They will follow like obedient little boys and girls. But is the left prepared for this new situation? The coming energy crisis will most probably lead to a national government to begin with. But, since it is irreversible, as the collapse of capitalism continues, it will drive Labour to the left and will probably lead to one-party rule based on the Labour Party. The Conservative Party will collapse in tandem with capitalism and become irrelevant.
The choice we face is totalitarianism or a democratic socialist society. I think that was the point George Orwell was trying to make. Luckily, an energy crisis may serve to undermine the totalitarian tendencies, as living becomes more localised.
To stop the elite using the Labour Party, or even a mass communist party, to impose totalitarianism, the left must call for democratic socialism, because at present most of the left groups are an open door to totalitarianism - a powerful tendency in human society.