The bureaucratic onslaught by the Socialist Party (Netherlands) against its left-dominated youth section, ROOD, has recently intensified. Following the block on ROOD facilities (including access to its own bank account!), the SP set up an ‘inquiry’ to provide formal justification for its actions, including the mass expulsion of leftwingers. The commission led by Nine Kooiman (the former party MP, who is now secretary of the police union), finally produced its report in June.
Firstly, the report created an image of a ROOD that had given up campaigning as a result of endless squabbling, thanks to its recently elected communist leadership. In reality, however, ROOD is still very active in all kinds of campaigning work, such as the fight against student debts. What did change was the attitude towards the wider movement: away from a very sectarian attitude that put the party bureaucracy before anything else, and toward being an integral part of the movement, taking up leading positions within it. The accusation of ‘squabbling’ is, of course, an attack to the culture of open, vigorous debate that the new ROOD leadership has been promoting. But genuine political debate means trouble for the SP bureaucrats!
The influence of the Communist Platform within ROOD was also attacked head-on by the commission. The CP had frequently put forward motions and offered voting advice, and the commission equated this to “instructing” ROOD members, as if they were obliged to back our proposals without consideration or debate. This speaks volumes of the distrust the leadership has in the membership. In fact, the commission regretted in hindsight ever granting ROOD the autonomy to make its own decisions!
Of course, it is only through self-organisation that young comrades can gain the experience of what it takes to be a leader in the class struggle. But the aim of the party leadership has always been for ROOD to act as a machine for producing loyal career politicians. Indeed, at the same time as this report was published, a formal decision was made to launch JONG, a new youth wing to replace ROOD, which is notable for the absence of any democratic structures and safely under the control of the party leadership.
Not to be deterred by this report, the left within the party under the umbrella of the Marxist Forum decided to run its own slate for the upcoming SP leadership elections. The MF was set up by the Communist Platform last year to bring together all Marxist elements in the party. It has the support of a few hundred members and holds regular meetings attended by dozens of comrades.
The left slate of 10 candidates, including for SP chair and secretary, sent shockwaves through the party, which isn’t used to having any serious opposition on this scale. The fact that this slate stands on a common platform that aims to transform the party along Marxist lines was also a novelty and the call to revoke the decision to cut ties with ROOD was seen as direct provocation by loyalist elements.
This brings us to the latest episode. At the central committee (partijraad) meeting of September 25, a motion was carried claiming that in reality both ROOD and the Marxist Forum were alternative “political parties”. The significance here is that, while the SP doesn’t specifically ban factions, it does have a rule prohibiting members from belonging to another party. Effectively, this rule serves as a de facto ban on factions. It was successfully used in the past against members of the International Socialists and the Committee for a Workers’ International.
The fact that the motion was passed surprised many, because ROOD was actually attempting to negotiate a ‘clean separation’ with the SP, but this decision blew up any possibility of an agreement. It called for an ‘active search’ for members linked to ROOD and MF, giving them a ‘choice’ between, on the one hand, renouncing both groups in order to remain a member of the SP, and, on the other, being expelled.
Of course, opting for continued SP membership in this context was effectively acquiescing to a gagging order and a halt to any further internal political struggle. So the ROOD leadership and MF executive committee both advised comrades to decline to make any such illegitimate choice.
But it looks like we are entering the last chapter of the civil war started by the leadership last year, and that hundreds, mostly active SP members are about to be expelled. I’m stressing the word ‘active’ because, while the SP still claims 30,000 members overall, the number who can be described as even slightly active is much lower, around 1,500. But the SP has been in decline for over a decade, with around a third of its branches existing on paper only. Of course, expelling hundreds of your most active cadre sounds ludicrous, but it shows how far the leadership is willing to go to reassert full and undisputed control.
The first expulsions are likely to occur just before the leadership elections in November. Timing is of the essence for the bureaucracy, so why risk a strong left vote? Much better to expel its supporters. But the result will be a sterile internal party life dominated by the boomer generation.
Susan Elizabeth Siens is genuinely mistaken in her reply to me (Letters, September 30), when she assumes that I accused her of being a vulgar economist. What I did accuse the comrade of in my September 16 letter was putting forward vulgar materialism, when she asserted that “gender … has nothing much to do with biological truth” (Letters, September 9).
Whilst I congratulate the comrade on her recent completion of Capital volume 1, might I suggest that she also take some time to study Marx’s and Engels’ contribution to the critique of vulgar materialism and the rejection of philosophy in favour of a ‘pure’ science? I am sure some textbooks would point you to Anti-Dühring, but I think Engels’ Dialectics of nature offers a critique that is more analogous to the debate at hand. Soviet historians may have described Engels’ argument as an “implacable war” (Preface MECW Vol 25), but I for one think that his references to swearing parrots, deep space astronomy and séances with the dead are as entertaining as they are powerful.
That aside, the rest of the comrade’s letter is, from a communist perspective, rather disturbing. She tells us that trans people are “the first group of oppressed peoples I have ever heard of who receive funding from obnoxious billionaires such as Martine Rothblatt, Jennifer Pritzker and George Soros.” Come on, really?
I am sure most readers will agree with me that it is a sad truth that in actual fact there are few groups of oppressed peoples that have not been bought out, sold out or had their leaders paid off at some stage. Whilst I could go down the list, I will pick a single example. What, comrade Siens, about that ominous organisation, Black Lives Matter? I am sure they have taken money from all sorts of nefarious places, so does that mean we should tar the whole anti-racist movement of recent years with the same brush? I think a deeper analysis is required than simply throwing up the name George Soros and calling it a day.
Likewise the comrade’s remarks on ‘big pharma’. She insinuates that the “medical-industrial complex” is pushing the trans ‘agenda’ and doing so to profit from the “lifelong medicalisation/mutilation of children”. I think this is probably a case of ‘the tail wagging the dog’.
I myself am personally against the idea of puberty blockers (etc), but who am I to force medical opinions onto someone else (even children)? Surely what communists should be agitating against is not puberty blockers for those who want them, but the “medical-industrial complex” profiteering in the first place. This issue extends far beyond puberty blockers - to pain killers, anti-depressants, cancer medication, etc.
I had previously asked comrades from a ‘gender critical’ perspective to provide their vision for trans liberation. The question was intended to be purely rhetorical, as I thought that no-one of that particular ideological persuasion would dare give an answer. Comrade Siens both surprised and shocked me in her attempt.
Just as in organic chemistry, if you heat anything up for long enough, you will get the same black-brown sludge; debate with a ‘gender critical’ ideologue for long enough and you will eventually find yourself enveloped in the ever-titillating discourse on toilets, changing rooms and prisons. This seeming law of nature aside, we are met with an argument that is somehow even more reactionary: trans people “are hardly oppressed”, they are not worthy of consideration in our vision for the liberation of all humanity (perhaps they are not human?), and that - as comrade Siens puts it - “I [read trans people] want my way all the time and I will whine, assault and murder anyone who stands in my way.”
Simply inhuman stuff, comrade.
Who are PMC?
In his ‘debate’ with Mike Macnair, Foppe de Haan revisits the ‘professional-managerial class’ (‘Addressing the central issues’, September 30). What struck me, however, in his lengthy analysis was the lack of reference to who these people might be. I realise that there is an indication in its name, but he says, “this cohort is now orders of magnitude bigger than it has ever been historically”. So who are they?
I’m sure that Weekly Worker readers are aware of what is meant, but comrade de Haan could at least give us a couple of examples in his analysis and how his argument relates to them. He refers to “team leaders”, but the only specific occupation that he mentions is “armed bureaucrats like police officers”.
The ‘PMC’ surely includes professionals such as lawyers, doctors and academics, as well as assorted managers in both the public and private sectors. We are assured that they tend to have “control” over others and enjoy “perks”. All in all, the comrade seems to be looking at a comfortable layer of society who have a lot both to enjoy and to look forward to.
So an academic might enjoy tenure, have a salary large enough to own or mortgage a decent home and bring up a family. Further, time at work to teach and study, the prospect of possible promotion and - last, but not least - a pension to look forward to. This may well be the case for some, and I’m sure it was fairly widespread a few decades ago, but even looking at the mainstream media, let alone the ‘left’ online media and the reports of a few affected friends, this no longer seems to be the norm in academia. There are thousands of full-time lecturers without tenure. There are many working on a ‘gig-economy’ basis - paid for teaching, but not necessarily for preparation or marking - bringing their real pay down to food delivery levels. And teachers in both universities and schools also face the prospect, or even actuality, of remote learning.
Health professionals in hospitals and GP practices were already underpaid and overwhelmed even before Covid - and now it’s even worse. The government offered a 1% pay rise, presumably so that a subsequent 3% offer would look generous. It didn’t and there are a lot of angry PMC workers out there. Lawyers dealing in property - physical or intellectual - or finance may be doing OK, but crime and family are suffering from, among other things, swingeing cuts in legal aid. As for the civil service, I retired after a few years as a junior civil servant, just as pension contributions and provision were being ‘adjusted’ again. At the same time there was a government pay freeze that was calculated at the time to mean an 18% cut in real wages over its intended lifetime.
I would suggest that all of the above are suffering from pension theft in various forms: it’s been a regular feature of the private sector for even longer. My brief references to these PMC sections have been related to the UK; as far as I can gather it’s a darn sight worse in the US.
So, for all their hopes and aspirations, all their dreams of ‘control’, I would suggest that there is a substantial part - indeed a majority - of the PMC who also provide the potential, along with the rest of the working class, to engage with the enemy.
Marx and Engels in The German ideology reckoned that the members of any class were in battle with the other members of it unless they were united in a struggle against another class. Some of the PMC may have dreams of being part of a struggle against the working class, but I reckon that the bulk of them will be on our side.
They, like we, need to build a mass communist party of the working class to end capitalism forever.
Can I just correct some (of the many) misconceptions and inaccuracies in Jennifer Wilkinson’s letter (September 30) regarding Covid vaccines?
No, it is simply not true that “most who die [from Covid-19] are very old with other significant health problems”. The virus is more deadly in older people, but that does translate into ‘it is not deadly in younger and even very young people’. This is particularly apparent with the Delta variant, which is fast becoming the dominant virus across the world (with an ‘R value’ of 6 - ie, each infected individual on average infects six other people - it is as infectious as measles) and appears more virulent in the young.
And, no, the general pattern is not for it to make people “very mildly unwell or at most feeling rotten, as with any virus”. The Covid mortality rate is between 1% and 2%, which makes it 1,000 times more lethal than seasonal flu (mortality: 0.001%). There have been over one million deaths just in the UK and USA in under two years. Is this a definition of a disease that, at most, makes you “feel rotten”?
But these figures ignore ‘long Covid’, which affects about 10% of those who survive - we don’t have accurate figures, which could only be obtained if we could follow up everyone who develops clinical disease, but most clinicians think that this is a reasonable approximation.
And again, no, taking a vaccine is only partially a decision about your own heath. It is also a public health issue. Unless you believe that ‘there is no such thing as society’, vaccination is a way of securing herd immunity: ie, protecting society. The idiotic MMR vaccine scare has resulted in a resurgence of measles in the UK, with (totally avoidable) severe disease and death across the country. From the point of view of public health mass vaccination of a highly infectious, potentially lethal disease is akin to having speed limits in built-up areas. It avoids bystander deaths. Children do not just belong to their mum and dad: they are part of society. Those children whose parents refuse vaccination are not only put themselves at risk, but also anyone who comes into contact with them.
Finally, the handful of doctors (or “professors of virology and epidemiology”) who oppose vaccination (including that of children) are as mistaken as the handful of experts who were climate deniers (also including professors of this and that). Some only see the child in isolation and question the benefit to each individual (though even here the data does not support them), without seeing the overall health of the children as a community, or society in general. This is understandable, given the poor state of medical education across the world. (I remember a colleague who many years ago challenged me to find the word ‘poverty’ in the index of any textbook of medicine.) Others, who should know better, will have to answer to their own conscience.
Your correspondent has clearly not lived in an authoritarian society, when she equates mandatory vaccination with “seizing control over” people’s lives. I, like all healthcare workers, had to take the hepatitis B vaccine if I was to work in the NHS. It was ‘No jab, no job’, but none of us complained. That decision was to protect patients.
I would have thought that someone with left inclinations would understand that. But then we are living in strange times.
Dr Mohsen Shahmanesh
Maren Clarke has given us yet more trolling in place of rational argument (Letters, September 30).
In her initial letter, she argued against Marx’s statement that it’s only necessary for an investment to produce a higher rate of profit than could be earned as interest, clearly because she mistook it for my statement rather than Marx. I provided the actual quote from Marx, and she drops it, failing to either retract her objection or to pursue it against Marx’s argument. That illustrates beautifully that Clarke does not respond to arguments and ideas, but to individuals - in this case me. That is the hallmark of the troll.
The other hallmark demonstrated by Clarke is the use of sweeping statements and assertions that are not backed up by evidence or reasoned argument. So we have her comment that I am supposed to have reconstituted the argument and taken it away from the original subject, which I am always supposed to do. But it’s Clarke who has failed to respond to the Marx quote, and who now has simply shifted to another line of attack.
The evidence she gives for this is pathetic. I objected to her statement that it’s not competition that is the driver of accumulation, but the fact that surplus value is never zero, because this is a non sequitur. Clarke seems unable to differentiate between the self-expansion of capital and the accumulation of capital. In her response, all she does is reformulate her original assertion in different language. She says it’s not competition that drives accumulation, but “the social condition of the labourer”. But, if that is to mean anything, it can only mean that this social condition under capitalism leads to the surplus value produced by the labourer being appropriated by the capitalist, whereas under feudalism it is appropriated by the landlord as rent. In terms of why this surplus value, having been appropriated, results in accumulation at all - let alone, and to the point of the debate, over Michael Roberts’ argument about falling levels of accumulation - this takes us further not one jot!
Turn to Marx, and indeed Lenin, and the answer is provided, and it resides precisely in the role of competition. Prior to capitalism, society passes through a prolonged period of commodity production and exchange by independent producers. This process, as both Marx and Lenin describe, is what inevitably leads to the development of capital itself. The independent commodity producers, as they produce increasingly for the market, are forced into competition with each other. Some have natural advantages, and produce at lower individual values than their competitors. They grow, whilst others are squeezed. Lenin’s writings against the Narodniks, summed up in his opus of The development of capitalism in Russia, sets this out in detail, in connection to what happened in Russia after the 1861 Emancipation.
A determining factor in producing at a lower individual value is the scale of production, which, as Marx and Lenin describe, means that the independent producers accumulate additional means of production in the form of tools, animals and so on. By this means the competition between them favours these larger producers at the expense of their neighbours, and so sets in the process of differentiation. Those that win out in this competition begin to employ their less fortunate neighbours’ labour, and eventually the latter, having lost their means of production entirely, have to sell their labour-power itself.
But this applies to the further development of accumulation and the concentration and centralisation of capital itself. Capitalists do not accumulate capital simply on a whim, or simply, as Clarke’s argument would have it, because they have acquired surplus value, but because it is only by producing on a larger scale that they can produce more cheaply, and so grab an additional market share from their competitors, which again is required to justify the increased production.
So, again, where Clarke gives us just assertion with no validation, let me give another quote from Marx against her, which she will again no doubt ignore, and she will attempt to shift the discussion again on to something else.
Marx, against Ricardo’s argument that it’s only higher prices and profits that cause investment, says instead that it is anticipation of increased demand, and competition to grab a share of it, that drives accumulation:
“Although considerable rise or fall in market prices affects the volume of production, regardless of it, there is in agriculture (just as in all other capitalistically operated lines of production) nevertheless a continuous relative overproduction, in itself identical with accumulation, even at those average prices whose level has neither a retarding nor exceptionally stimulating effect on production ... The demand increases constantly, and in anticipation of this new capital is continually invested in new land ... It is the formation of new capitals which in itself brings this about ... [The capitalist’s] aim is to capture as big a portion as possible of the market. Should there be any overproduction, he will not take the blame upon himself, but places it upon his competitors” (Capital Vol 3, chapter 39).
But, according to Clarke, “No, this is not Marx’s point at all!” I will not hold my breath waiting for her to square that circle. No doubt she will be off on yet another tangent instead.
So, just for the hell of it, though it is really tiresome to have to cover these basic tenets of Marxism, let us look at Clarke’s other assertions. She says competition “simply divides the spoils, and regulates the price of production”. But it clearly does not “simply” do that. Having divided the spoils, how then does Clarke explain the necessity of different capitals using those spoils for accumulation, rather than consumption?
That was precisely the point of my objection to her fatuous comment that there is accumulation simply because there is surplus value! And, as I said, where the Austrians posit a natural rate of interest, Roberts posits a natural rate of profit, above which accumulation increases and below which it falls. That at least is a more intelligent, even if wrong, argument than that of Clarke, which simply infers accumulation on the basis of the existence of surplus value. But Clarke’s argument, if it justifies that description, is a criticism of Roberts’ position, not mine.
She says: “Accumulation derives from the full development of capitalism, from its prerequisites: ie, from the social condition of the labourer; the social relations between capital and labour.” That is clearly false, because, as outlined above, both Marx and Lenin describe the process of accumulation of means of production that occurs under the system of commodity production and exchange that existed long before the development of capitalism, let alone its “full development”, and that accumulation is one of the foundations of the development of capital and capitalism itself. Its basis resides precisely in the role of competition between those independent commodity producers for market share. It is the material basis upon which the process of differentiation of those independent producers into bourgeois and proletarians takes place.
And, to complete her trolling, Clarke again concludes with a series of unsupported, sweeping statements that amount to nothing more than insults. I don’t know which bridge she normally resides under, but her supposed arguments are not even a challenge to the Billy Goats Gruff, let alone to a Marxist.
Tony Greenstein’s review of Lee Garrett’s book rightly mentions John McDonnell as a leading back-stabber (‘Setting the record straight’, September 30). But one smear of McDonnell’s - damning with no praise, under guise of sympathetic explanatory contextualisation - seems to have dropped into the ‘memory hole’.
At a crucial stage in the smearing of Jeremy Corbyn as anti-Semitic, McDonnell offered a purported palliative from Labour Party notables history: he pointed out that Oswald Mosley had after all been anti-Semitic - and, as is well known, was prominent amongst the Labour leadership, albeit briefly. This rang false to me at the time, and I promptly searched thoroughly my copy of Anthony Julius’s Trials of the diaspora - surely one of the fullest sources on anti-Semitism in Britain (well, England actually) - to find any evidence of political anti-Semitism on Mosley’s part before his foundation of the British Union of Fascists. But not only did I find no evidence there of it while he was in the Labour Party: there was no evidence either during his New Party period (1931-32), where Harold Nicolson and, briefly, Nye Bevan kept him company. That exhaustive AS-hunter, Julius, did not seem to have evidence of mere social anti-Jewish prejudice on Mosley’s part in his second and third parties (or indeed in his first: the Tory Party).
Upper-class ‘golf club’ social prejudice was, and arguably is, a different matter (but see also James Robb’s Working class anti-Semite, 1954). Ramsay MacDonald, in his Zionist pronouncements, and home secretary Herbert Morrison, in his refusal to permit entry to Jewish refugees from the Nazi mass murders at their height, were clearly political anti-Semites in this regard (for further details, see ‘The Labour Party: anti-Semitism and Zionism’ by John Newsinger (International Socialism Journal January 3 2017, available also on the Jewish Voice for Labour website).
Yet McDonnell studiously avoids these blatant examples from Labour history, and concentrates on mentioning - anachronistically - an easy target for misrepresentation. That major misrepresentation was, of course, that of Corbyn by a purported friend and ally. Guilt by association was no more venomous in Joe McCarthy’s day than in John McDonnell’s ‘reminder’.
I have heard nothing about who wrote or inspired Starmer’s ‘Sermon on the Mount’ Fabian pamphlet, The road ahead - other than internal evidence, of course. But, as far as his conference speech is concerned, I am personally informed by someone well placed to gather - and perhaps to assess - Labour rumours amongst the rightwing ‘moderates’ (but remember Barry Goldwater’s dictum about ‘moderation in the pursuit of virtue’) that a major contributor (author?) was none other than Phil Collins of The Times, a former speechwriter for Tony Blair.