All wrong

We are in a time of great ideological and political confusion. Former leftists are retreating pell-mell from the class struggle, denying the heritage of the Russian Revolution and rejecting the possibility of the working class ever overthrowing capitalism in its imperialist heartlands or anywhere at all.

John Smithee assures us that the trade unions “are now intertwined with the state and the big corporations” and “the trade union bureaucracy is a strike-breaking caste” (Letters, December 9). For this reason, we must counterpose the unionisation of Amazon warehouses to the formation of rank-and-file committees outside the trade unions, “as advocated by Trotsky in his 1938 transitional programme”. Trotsky advocated no such thing, but working within existing trade unions and, if necessary, forming new ones.

This is the programme of David North’s Socialist Equality Party, who are opposed to reballoting at Amazon’s plant in Bessemer, Alabama, because a judge found the original ballot involved massive company intimidation of the workforce. In the name of an ultra-left, third period-Stalinist, cultist line of ‘nobody but us’, we have a rightwing, strike-breaking, union busting enterprise, in collaboration with Jeff Bezos.

Tony Greenstein’s “socialist Baruch Spinoza” three questions (getting him excommunicated from the Jewish socialist community?) are a truly shocking abandonment of the class (‘Not a liquidation?’, December 9). He attempts to use Lenin against Leninism by distorting the question of the aristocracy of labour and then goes on to deny that Labour remains a bourgeois workers’ party and champions the cause of the rightwing anti-communist, Ernest Bevin, on the spurious basis that he was of working class origin. I’ve no hesitation in supporting the former majority executive of Labour Against the Witchhunt - Jackie Walker, Kevin Bean, Stan Keable and Tina Werkmann - against him.

Michael Roberts generally sticks to Marxist economic analysis which is highly educational. However, when he gets on to the politics of China in his three reviews, he is seriously wrong (‘Contradictions and ambiguities’, December 9). Although he mentions inequality, he does not specify how this operates. He tells us that strikes are illegal, but this “is not strictly enforced”, and makes no attempt to define the class nature of the state itself or where this “transitional economy, with the contradictory forces of planning and the market in play”, is going. Strikes break out which the bogus All-China Federation of Trade Unions cannot prevent, not those the leaders of the state magnanimously allow. Inequality works in China through the ‘hukou system’: fully 40% of the urban population are hukou - rural immigrant, second-class citizens with no welfare, healthcare or education rights for their children. The non-hukou workers are an aristocracy of labour with first call on everything. All the investment could not have secured the high rate of profit without the super-exploitation which has produced those 1,058 billionaires and 5.5 million millionaires in China’s fully capitalist state and economy.

Michael Roberts neglected to tell us that John Ross is a Trotskyist renegade, a former leader of the Mandelite International Marxist Group, who now sings for his supper. But confusion really reigns when he endorses Richard Smith’s outlook. A huge proportion of the top Chinese Communist Party members are millionaires and billionaires, often closely related to other top bureaucratic leaders. The state-owned enterprises are run along capitalist lines: all planning there is directed to enriching and producing yet more billionaires, of which president Xi is one and Xu Jiayin - the founder and chairman of the huge property company, Evergrande - another. Evergrande has just collapsed, with liabilities of more than $300 billion, owed mainly to foreign investors. Upwards of 30% of China’s gross domestic product depends on the property market - this may be about to burst, with consequences for the whole global market. Of course, producing for the market is capitalism - why would anyone seek to deny such an obvious truth?

I must spare a few words for Andrew Northall, who told us back in July that the Great Purges were “not ‘above’ or ‘outside’ the law, but using the law - the law of the established and legitimate Soviet state” (Letters, July 15). Any serious historian knows from the Soviet archives upwards of 40 years ago that this is wholly untrue. Nicolas Werth wrote a piece in 2010, ‘The NKVD mass secret operation No 00447 (August 1937 - November 1938)’. He tells us: “800,000 people executed in secret (over half of them under order No 00447) by means of a bullet in the back of the head after a pretence of justice - this over a period of 16 months, at a rate of 50,000 executions per month or 1,700 per day for nearly 500 days”. Leaders were given quotas of how many to arrest and execute and how many to send to the gulag. A three-man commission (troika) decided this without any defence allowed or any hearing at all. This had nothing to do with any “Trotskyite-Zinovievite terrorist centre”, but was designed to assure western imperialism that Stalin was a complete counterrevolutionary who posed no revolutionary threat to them. Many overfilled their quotas, eager to get recognition of loyalty - one unfortunate failed to find enough ‘counterrevolutionaries’ to murder, so he was on the next list. And the man in Moscow, seeing this, filled his quota by picking names at random from the telephone directory.

Trotskyists defend the nationalist property relations based on state planning in the USSR even under Stalin, and in Cuba and even the brutal ultra-Stalinist terror regime in North Korea today. Political revolution is needed there to preserve the planned mode of production, which constituted a degenerated or deformed workers’ state. But we accept none of these absolute, consciously disseminated lies from the likes of Andrew Northall about “not outside the law”.

Gerry Downing
Socialist Fight

Class is central

It is normal that a sub-headline sums up the article below it, but the one below my article last week broke with tradition: instead it was a commentary and a criticism of my article!

The headline I had suggested, ‘Why the merger of LAW and LIEN is not a liquidation’, was also jettisoned in favour of ‘Not a liquidation?’ - itself a form of commentary. I was accused of “abandoning any pretence of class politics” and advocating “yet another ‘transitional’ halfway-house broad front”. I am at a loss to know how arguing for the merging of Labour Against the Witchhunt and the Labour In Exile Network amounts to abandoning class politics.

On the contrary, it is those whose sole focus of activity is concentrated on a forlorn battle inside a Labour Party where all democratic norms, due process and natural justice have been abandoned who are in danger of abandoning class politics. The elimination of the organised and class-conscious left by Starmer and Evans poses the question as to how the left should organise in the current period. The strategy I and others have been arguing for is to fight both inside the Labour Party, where possible, and outside the Labour Party where that is impossible.

It was not that long ago when the CPGB was the most trenchant critic of what it called “auto-Labourism”. It did not support New Labour in 1997 and argued: “Far from representing independent working class politics - albeit in embryonic form - historically the left acts as a Labourite tail” (‘Auto-Labourism in crisis’, July 8 1999). Is it seriously suggested that there is any political difference between Starmer and Blair, other than the fact that Blair had the means to enact certain reforms, such as a minimum wage and tax credits? The whole tenor of Derek James’s article, ‘Shuffling further to right’ (December 9), was that Starmer was moving ever further towards the Blairites politically and adopting Blair’s playbook.

There is a real debate to be held as to how the left best organises in the wake of the defeat of the Corbyn project. Caricaturing the arguments of one’s opponents is not the best way of carrying out that debate. For the record, class politics has to be central to everything we do. However, class politics cannot simply be reduced to fighting the right in the Labour Party or just economic struggles. The fight against the racism of the British state is part and parcel of that struggle, as is the struggle against imperialism. It is not me, but the CPGB, who maintains that the capitalist state is not inherently racist.

I repeat my call for comrades in Labour Party Marxists not to join those on the former LAW steering committee in trying to destroy the possibility of a new combined political formation of the socialist left in the Labour Party, but to join us instead.

Tony Greenstein

Second amendment

Paul Demarty has thrown himself into the controversy over Kyle Rittenhouse and the right to bear arms, and the results are not pretty (‘Our gun rights too’, December 2).

Rittenhouse, of course, is the Illinois teenager who was acquitted of murder last month despite killing two people and wounding a third during a night of political violence in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Comrade Demarty agrees that the acquittal “offends any meaningful idea of justice”. But he likes the US constitution’s second amendment regardless, because he sees the right to bear arms as an “elementary democratic principle”. He even says he “would be happy to have it [the amendment] verbatim in any socialist constitution”.

None of which makes the slightest bit of sense. One reason is that it’s impossible to decry the verdict, while embracing the amendment that made it possible in the first place. Without the second amendment, Rittenhouse would not have been able to strut around with his assault rifle in full view and would not have gotten off scot-free. But another reason is that, rather than democratic, the right to bear arms is a pre-democratic vestige that goes back to ‘Old Whig’ writers like John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, whose Cato’s letters swept colonial America in the 1720s; to Machiavelli’s Discourses two centuries earlier; and even to the ‘forest communities’ of medieval Switzerland, whose members were likewise expected to carry swords in defence of ancient liberties.

Such thinkers believed in the right to bear arms, because, in a pre-democratic age, they couldn’t conceive of government that was anything other than threatening and oppressive. Instead of changing it, the only solution was for the people to rein it in through sheer force of arms. If the infant United States felt obliged to ‘constitutionalise’ the right to bear arms, it’s because it viewed government - even its own - in roughly the same way. If, by the same token, nothing remotely similar appears in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man of 1789, it’s because French revolutionaries were ready to move on to something more advanced - which is to say government that would defend the people, not government that the people would have to defend themselves against.

When a pre-modern belief system collides with modern society, the results are predictable. With its traffic laws, Covid-19 restrictions, environmental regulations and so on, modern bourgeois society is nothing if not intrusive. It’s in our face 24/7 - a tendency that freedom-loving patriots are all but programmed to see as tyrannical and therefore to reach for their guns in response.

This is why basements and ‘rec rooms’ in the US are now bristling with advanced weaponry: because if one AR-15 is needed to safeguard ancient liberties, according to the second amendment, then three or four will do the job even more effectively. Political tension leads to rising levels of gun ownership, which lead to rising levels of political tension - a vicious cycle that is all but unbreakable in today’s climate.

The idea that all these backyard Rambos will somehow transform themselves into Bolshevik militants, as Demarty seems to believe, merely adds to the absurdity. As I originally wrote, the only thing a reactionary right to bear arms will lead to is racism, xenophobia and authoritarianism (‘Rittenhouse and white backlash’, November 25).

Daniel Lazare


In reply to Jim Nelson (Letters, December 9), let me say that, according to Marx, a dictatorship is necessary under socialism. But the political leadership of the British working class, the Labour Party and the trades Unions rejected Marx’s 19th century continental definition of socialism as a dictatorship. Some in radical circles accepted Marx’s talk about the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, but the British left was mostly, instinctively, suspicious of the notion of socialism as a dictatorship, and preferred the idea of democratic socialism.

This was one of the main reasons why Marxism never gained leading influence in the British labour movement. The wise heads in the British Labour Party/trade union establishment weren’t taken in by all this Prussian talk about dictatorship. The Labour Party is right to oppose those who teach that dictatorship is necessary under socialism. Those who believe in this doctrine represent the intolerant, totalitarian tendency in socialism.

Most of the communist movement later dropped the term ‘dictatorship’ in describing working class rule, if only for appearance’s sake, although Jim Nelson thinks Marx was right, and we should still describe socialism as a dictatorship. He argues that for Marx dictatorship means the working class as a whole and not a single person. I am not responsible for Marx’s political mistake and misuse of the term in describing the socialist rule of the working class. Where has there ever been a dictatorship without a dictator, supported by a small group of his associates? Indeed, back in the days of the Communist League, Marx himself was regarded as a potential dictator, due to his frequent displays of intolerance to others with different views.

Another point is that in political science dictatorship refers to a form of political rule, not ownership and control of the means of production by a particular class. So Marx not only confused coercion with the dictatorship: he also confused politics with economics by using a political term to describe the economic domination of the capitalist class.

Comrade Nelson suggests that Marx used the term ‘dictatorship’ in the sense of the control of one class over the other, not in the sense of absolute rule unrestricted by law. If this was how Marx was using the term, it would also be wrong, because the control of the capitalist class over the working class is not presently a dictatorship: that is why the working class can form unions, and vote for political parties. Also, the control of the working class - ie, socialism - over the capitalist class doesn’t require a dictatorship, but state coercion if necessary. Of course, we can speak about those sinister forces in the elites that are pushing the creeping transhumanist agenda - ie, absolute, hidden dictatorship - for which universal vaccination is laying the groundwork, and going well beyond Orwell’s 1984, but that is another issue.

Dictatorship, as traditionally understood, is something which the working class can resort to in emergency situations, but this is not the same as Marx’s view that it is necessary as a principle in the transition from capitalism to communism. The political control of the working class and dictatorship are not the same thing. The former can lead to democratic socialism; the latter opens the door to totalitarianism.

There are people who think our past leaders never made any mistakes, so there is no need for correction, but this is the view of cultists. I once met a Maoist who praised China’s Great Leap Forward debacle. Alternatively, some leftists only focus on mistakes. This is why I argue that, regardless of his mistakes, Trotsky’s struggle for democratic socialism against totalitarianism was correct and in line with the 1936 Soviet constitution (whether the constitution was honoured during Stalin’s leadership or after is another question).

Tony Clark


Mohsen Shahmanesh’s article, which concluded, “I believe we can now refine that ‘barbarism’ more clearly”, was interesting (‘Danger of barbarism’, December 9). But I would argue, in light of the evidence and thinking, that our primary aim is to refine socialism more clearly, so instead of ‘barbarism or socialism’, it is now barbarism or eco-socialism. This ties in with Jack Conrad’s recent, wildly distorted articles.

Broadly speaking, Marxists are not embracing green ideas deep enough or fast enough, and hold onto absurd and antiquated ideas around growth and mastery of nature. It is telling that Marxism has been utterly incapable of grappling with these issues. Thanks mainly to western socialists, Marxism has descended into a dogmatic set of doctrines, and I would say has made itself irrelevant in the face of the numerous problems we are facing.

The other point I want to make about the article is that it presents a battle between humankind and nature. This reminded me of Jason Hickel’s Less is more - one of the few books by the left that seriously attempts to grapple with current problems. He argues that viewing humanity in opposition to nature is one of the fundamental weaknesses of western thought and a major source of current problems.

I think Hickel’s book, which has its flaws, is essential reading and a nice dialectical antidote to Jack Conrad’s approach, which I can only describe as mischievous. (I have in mind a gremlin knocking things over!)

Maren Clark

Old baloney

Mohsen Shahmanesh’s article provided knowledgeable and fresh perspectives for anybody grappling with the thorny issues of Covid infectiousness - the scientific truths or otherwise distortions and misinformation of the pandemic (those latter elements, despite often being just plain daft, invariably also result in behaviours that are grossly contrary to common good).

Maybe another conclusion quite justifiably to be drawn is how humankind under capitalism is doomed to be the agency of its own demise. That, of course, assumes that ultimately it won’t prove possible to resolve our grand conundrum of how we get beyond this current paradigm, where in essence our species continues to operate not that differently from the animal kingdom as a whole since primeval times. Mutual exploitation lies at the core of things, with the only available option to be either the hunter or the prey. Capitalism’s version of ‘civilisation’ offers a life based upon that proverbial ‘3Rs’ ratio of reward versus risk - a scrabble to dominance - as our society’s main driving force.

Put more simply, how do we as human beings keep both the pleasures and comforts of our lifestyles and necessities of civilised society affordable (ranging from tea and coffee to building materials for a roof over our head), whilst not drawing upon exploitation and inherent oppression of others, both in our capitalist ‘homelands’ and globally?

Thankfully there are alternatives to all such depressive nihilism, most notably made available by virtue of ambitions in a socialist/communist direction; by that ability to identify the underlying forces in play - in the specific context of comrade Shahmanesh’s article, how it’s almost exclusively the absence of a sophisticated, modernistic Communist Party within the life and mind of our 21st-century populations that has resulted in all such dangerous, anti-social confusions and that associated, distractive nonsense of conspiracy theories, Covid denial, ‘anti-vax’ mentality, etc. The absence of a Communist Party of that type in each of capitalism’s nation-states has resulted in a situation not where the population end up believing in nothing, but rather they believe in anything: ie, any strung-together old baloney, even if placing them and humankind in general at that risk of severe self-harm.

All of which leads to a personal gripe also arising from last week’s edition. The insertion of the editorial heading into Tony Greenstein’s contribution, ‘Not a liquidation?’, that the comrade was “abandoning any pretence of class politics” is not only blatantly inaccurate, given the cogency of his arguments (whether one agrees with them wholly, partially or not at all), but actively promotes mutual alienation over and above the incalculably more necessary consolidation and/or unity of our Marxist practices and positions. Not good, not healthy, not clever.

Despite these problems, all must not be seen as lost - especially where, on the one hand, citizens in Austria are protesting against Covid ‘restrictions on freedom’, but, at precisely the same time, Serbians are out on the streets in their tens of thousands, making clear how their so-called government’s collaboration with global pillagers of our planet will not be tolerated. Then there are the activities of Extinction Rebellion, etc - something which all communists can agree is unquestionably worthy, arguably also essential, even if in the final analysis vastly insufficient.

Bruno Kretzschmar