As a headline, ‘Something serious is needed’ blandly signified Jack Conrad’s article in the last issue of Weekly Worker (December 16) somewhat better than the prickly strapline that editors gave Tony Greenstein’s article the previous week (‘Not a liquidation?’, December 9). Indeed, comrade Conrad’s riding crop might have caught comrade Greenstein some glancing blows, but did not get his belligerent nag past the Becher’s Brook realities of working within today’s Labour Party or in its likely future self.
To a degree it is wrong to suggest that “the fight in the Labour Party is over”, as comrade Conrad claims is Tony Greenstein’s position; of course, there are those still in the Labour Party who might be won for Marxism. While the Labour Party still has individual members, we should contemplate how Marxists might influence them. But this is fast becoming an elusive Pony Club trophy. Just as there was no individual membership when the Labour Party was established over a century ago, a return to this position is now one possible future that Labour rightists are considering. The category of ‘members’ may well be replaced by that of ‘supporters’. Decisively, MPs are again likely to be back in the saddle in determining who becomes leader, perhaps with trade union bureaucrats’ participation. But if trade unions’ involvement with the Labour Party declines sufficiently the party could well be wound up.
In the present situation we certainly need to discuss whether or not ‘the game is worth the candle’ in terms of the amount of effort expended on propagandising Labour Party members - the sentiment that I expressed in an article rendered as a long letter in the November 4 edition. For this is the question (and hard answers to it) that has concerned many of the tens of thousands who have already left Labour and are now castigated by comrade Conrad for their self-respect and realism concerning outcomes.
The CPGB’s position is still to put its eggs in the Labour basket. But to what benefit? For socialist and Marxist activists, the difficulties in trying to develop campaigns and ideas in the Labour Party are manifold and growing greater. Raising a head above the parapet invites having it cut off by the bureaucracy. Every indicator shows that the right wing, now thoroughly in control, brooks no dissent from the left. Those who consider themselves on the left who challenge the right face disciplinary action to shut them up, up to and including expulsion. Left comrades must risk being martyrs or self-censor what they say and do: there are no alternatives. For those who stay this is a recipe for creeping social-democratisation - for becoming Labourites.
Those who hold or have held elected positions within the Labour Party in recent years are just as hamstrung and under attack as other party members. A minor aside: as a branch secretary who emailed members to discuss Corbyn’s suspension, I was dobbed out by a fifth columnist and barred without notice from the centrally controlled email system by an unelected regional bureaucrat. Members are cowed into obedience and obeisance … or they leave.
Comrade Conrad still states that “Labour needs be refounded as a united front of a special kind and politically armed with a Marxist programme and put under a tried and tested Marxist leadership”. Really, this is pie in the sky. Maybe as a turn of phrase it is useful to express what must be this universe’s most unlikely outcome, and consequently that today’s Labour Party is of no earthly use to human liberation. But it disarms revolutionaries if taken seriously as a way forward. The right will never allow such a prospect to be discussed and would rather dissolve it than see such a turn of events. Eurocommunist reactionaries and their rightist allies in the old CPGB had no compunction about closing down that asset of the working class in Britain, mightily flawed though it was.
We revolutionaries cannot use Labour as entryists of yore crudely tried to do, magnifying our relatively small size, as it is at this time, to ‘punch above our weight’. Wherever we work, fight, propagandise and agitate, ideologically we shall always punch above our numerical weight because of the strength of Marxist ideas and the consequent potential they hold for organising the working class for revolution. But there is no short cut through parasitical attachment to the Labour Party: it is an unrealisable project.
I don’t think Paul Flewers will have done the sales of his new book much good, given his review article, ‘A Stalinist school of development?’ (December 2). He chose to review a most obscure tract produced in 1979 by an equally obscure “defunct semi-Maoist organisation” on the alleged “state collectivist” nature of the Soviet Union.
I find it faintly and quaintly amusing how the ultra-left have developed an entire industry devoted to ‘understanding’ the nature of the Soviet Union, using every device possible to avoid the dreaded word ‘socialism’. This ultra-left industry was, of course, symbiotically linked to the cold war and the CIA-funded anti-Soviet academic establishment, which also tried to ‘analyse’ Soviet society to death - all with a purpose of depicting it as some form of dread or freak formation, to be feared, hated and opposed. Many of those academics, of course, had history in the Trotskyist and Maoist milieu.
I am pleased that Moshé Machover, John Fantham and Flewers himself do not claim the USSR was capitalist or state-capitalist - that would obviously be a nonsense - but they defy basic Marxism and historical materialism by attempting to deny it was socialist.
They set up something of a straw person to define socialism as “proletarian control over the means of production and distribution, and over all areas of life”, knowing full well no socialist society in the 20th and 21st centuries has yet been able to meet that definition. Yes, a fully democratic socialist society, which that implies, is one of the fundamental objectives of such societies and towards which they must make progress. I would argue that failure to make such progress in the USSR from the 1960s was at the heart of the negative and crisis phenomena which emerged from the mid-1970s and ultimately produced the collapse in 1991. The writers, however, seem to think socialism is going to be a ‘shining city of the hill’, gleaming gold and running with milk and honey.
In contrast, Marx famously described early socialist society in this way: “… what we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges”. Equally the women and men who are called on to build socialism are products of centuries of class-divided society, with all the negative consequences of that. It takes time for socialist society to establish, build, develop, evolve and gradually move towards the higher forms of relations, which would more represent our ideals of socialism and communism.
In debating “state collectivism”, in my view the writers are looking at form rather than content or, in more classic Marxist terms, the superstructure rather than the determining economic base. We need to look at (1) who owns the means of production, distribution, exchange, communications, etc and (2) in whose fundamental interests is society and the economy being run.
Following mass collectivisations of agriculture and mass industrialisation led by the public sector, by the early 1930s it is clear that state property was the dominant economic formation. Who controlled this state? Yes, there was a bureaucracy somewhat set apart from the mass working class and made up of people with special powers and privileges, but I do not believe this amounted to a distinct class, let alone an exploiting one. Essentially, it was the Communist Party, operating throughout all aspects of the economy, civil society, state, military, security apparatus, etc, which was in control. If this was a ruling class, it was the most democratic ruling class in history, being recruited and replenished from the best in all fields of Soviet society.
In whose interests was Soviet society run? Well, for working people, the rights both to work and to rest were guaranteed, everyone had decent, safe and secure (if somewhat cramped and shared) housing at very low rents. Universal and free education ensured the Soviet people became the most literate, qualified and cultured population in the world. Gender equality was delivered in practice. Comprehensive welfare provision was in place for the sick, old, disabled and very young. There was comprehensive, high-quality, free health provision for everyone in all settings and with a strong emphasis on public health and prevention of disease and illness. Public amenities, utilities and services were provided at negligible or zero cost. The USSR itself excelled in world technology, especially in the fields of space and the military, and excelled in cultural development and sport.
Anyone with any knowledge, let alone experience, of the Soviet Union knows it was the opposite of an “atomised”, “freak” or “an abortion” of a society, as Jack Conrad has often claimed. People, especially after the war, were content, happy and confident in their country, their economic and social system. They could see their basic and higher needs were being met, and living and other standards consistently improving further over time. Soviet society was integrated, comfortable, cohesive and collective.
This was not an economy and society run in the interests of a small, exploiting minority against the basic interests of the working people, as is the case under capitalism. Capitalism simply couldn’t function if it provided the working class with the social and economic rights and benefits available under the Soviet Union.
Already by the 1930s there was evidence of a new Soviet people emerging under socialism - a process of formation accelerated and intensified somewhat by the “great purges” of 1937-38, which can be seen in retrospect, and despite their negative aspects, as having helped promote and develop a new cultured Soviet intelligentsia by ‘clearing away a lot of the old crap’, ‘people of the past’, and seeing a new Soviet people forged in the heat of the class struggle.
So what went wrong? I have previously made clear my view this was the failure of Soviet socialism to renew itself, from the mid-1960s, including through major democratisation and a deepening of popular participation in the economy and society. A great deal of the required direction of travel was set out in the 1961 CPSU programme. It was the failure to implement this in all aspects, including within the party, which ultimately led to the stagnation in the 1970s and 80s, growing negative and crisis phenomena in economy and society. The result was the slowing of economic growth, the poor quality of many products, especially consumer goods, a lack of choice, actual shortages of some basic items, alienation, absenteeism, alcohol abuse and a growing separation between the bureaucratic elite, including the Communist Party, and the mass of working people.
I don’t think Soviet socialism can be reduced to being simply a “Stalinist socioeconomic formation”. It was clearly much more than that and much more universal in relevance as a model for socialist development out of backward capitalism - although Stalin and his rule were important in shaping a number of key features and aspects of the Soviet model.
We do need to advocate, popularise and campaign for a socialism that is fully democratic, participatory, pluralistic in all aspects and involving the whole working people in the running of society. Soviet socialism was clearly not this end point, but was nonetheless a tremendous advance for the working people of Russia, and indeed the world, away from the monarchy, feudalism, capitalism and imperialism from which it emerged.
It could and should have progressed towards the more ideal model of socialism and communism I believe the majority of us share. It did not and with the consequences we all know about. But we should not dismiss the very real experience and achievements of Soviet socialism, we should build on them towards a socialism relevant and required for the 21st century and for the future of humanity and our planet.
Whenever I have read about the Russian Revolution I have always been disappointed about the way the communist parties in Britain (there are more than six now) viewed Trotsky in such an anti-trusting way. This is also the case with Lenin.
Lenin and Trotsky have come to be viewed in an uncomfortable light and this must be understood in order to counter (and, of course, with much scrutiny) the idea that you don’t make revolutions by baking cakes. In this tragic period, in which starvation, war and foreign invasion made it difficult to put into practice a meaningful ideological theory, it may turn out that the serious hardship experienced among the masses is a friend of socialism - for a temporary period!
I have read with both horror and anger about the torture and killing of Lenin’s close colleagues over such a short space of time by the Communist Party under Stalin - Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin, to name just a few, not to mention the millions that died in the development of Stalinism. Lenin’s last testament served as a warning against Stalin, yet the bureaucracy was in Stalin’s favour. It was a similar type of bureaucracy as under capitalism, which the Communist Party was supposed to be against, demonstrating that the state system needed to be controlled at the lowest level.
Trotsky was warned about factionalism and in 1921 there was the ban on factions, so he was unable to challenge the bureaucracy. Workers’ democracy was supposed to have been installed in Russia - it was essential to implement the party programme. There needs to be workers’ control over those in government. No matter how basic this idea is, it should have been the nucleus!
The price for getting this wrong has been all too obvious. How would things have been different, had Lenin lived? Dictatorship was already prevalent in the early days following the revolution. Why? This is a whole chapter in communism that is so uncomfortable. If we are to create a system and society in which the workers are free of oppression, we must make sure we ourselves don’t turn into the oppressor!
So, Ghislaine Maxwell is convicted and will be sentenced. She is 60 now and so will presumably follow the US path of being given another 60 (or more) years in prison. There is speculation that she may cut a deal and grass up all the men involved: after all, she was a ‘procurer’, so what about all those she ‘procured’ for - not just Epstein.
One might suppose that the authorities would rather the fuss dies down and everyone forgets about it, rather than roping in any major US figures or minor European royal. If she’s got any sense then she already has a document or flash drive in the safe of her lawyers (with numerous copies elsewhere) in case ‘anything happens to her’.
There’s no doubting the sort of ‘moral glow’ among some onlookers, especially in the press, that she will be getting her ‘just deserts’ - whatever they are. She will be punished, but for whose satisfaction? The young women involved may be pleased, but will it help them in any way going forward?
This was a high-profile case and so the powers that be may be glad to show the world that ‘nobody is above the law’ - much as they could crow over Harvey Weinstein. But I think it mostly provides a little cover for reality.
Sex trafficking is, and has been, a blot on the landscape all over the world for - how long? Years, centuries, millennia? Along with ‘voluntary’ prostitution by women who have families to feed. The Maxwell case will change nothing here. In fact, it’s a diversion from the underlying causes of these events.
Why did someone like Epstein have the extreme wealth to be able to indulge his practices? How is it that some girls and young women can be drawn into these scenarios. I’m reminded of a recent documentary on TV about Jimmy Savile and the way he could entice young girls into his dressing room on Top of the pops, to perhaps meet a ‘star’.
We’re not looking at ‘justice’ here. Apparently, almost half those in federal prisons at the moment are there for drug offences - which to me means that most of them shouldn’t be there at all. US prisons in general are there for the profit of their private owners, who treat their inmates (and their staff) like dirt, as seen for instance in the fact that the Covid epidemic has been sweeping the holding sites.
There are vast numbers in US jails who are on remand, but cannot afford bail; there are still remnants of the Black Panthers doing their decades in solitary confinement; and then we have Guantanamo. So, no, this is not about justice. American ‘justice’ has no more validity than American ‘democracy’.
But should Maxwell be punished? For whose satisfaction? I would guess that she presents no further danger to girls or young women, though someone might keep an eye open. There are individuals who need to be caged for life: famous locals would include, Ian Brady, Fred West and Dennis Nilsen, all now deceased. Though they should be locked up, it would be for our safety, not ‘punishment’ for their sins.
The safety of young women and girls would be better attended to by social change to remove their vulnerability and I can’t see either the American courts or their British counterparts doing much in that direction.
Boris Johnson’s premiership is self-destructing under a mass of sleaze and incompetence.
There may be moves within the Tory Party in the spring from the ‘men in grey suits’ - aka the Tory backbench 1922 Committee - to replace Boris with current chancellor Rishi Sunak. Other runners and riders for the premiership are likely to include current foreign secretary Liz Truss and health secretary Sajid Javid. Jeremy Hunt may also throw his hat in the ring again.
The longer Boris is in post, the more damage he’ll be doing to the Tory ‘brand’. Hence why Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is not too keen to call for Boris’s resignation. However, I, like other correspondents to this paper, would like to know more about what Labour stands for and what changes Labour would make in office.
It is therefore correct to call for the public ownership of the six big energy companies, along with public transport. I would add that Labour should also commit itself to building one million new council houses, which would work out at around 1,500 houses in each constituency. I would also add that Labour should commit itself to raising the minimum wage, without any age exemptions, to £15 an hour. This should be linked to the call to open the books of all companies, together with tax credits for small businesses, shopkeepers and farmers, to help pay for a £15-an-hour wage.
Whilst Keir Starmer hasn’t the charisma of Tony Blair, we must remember that Clement Attlee didn’t have much charisma either, but he led Labour to a great victory in 1945. A Labour government is possible.
Following the death of Desmond Tutu, the media only tangentially mentioned the now controversial South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
Particularly for those outside South Africa, the TRC was originally wildly praised as a way of unifying the country after the years of horror of apartheid. A PhD thesis (not as yet published, but it should be) casts some doubt on both the process and the product of the commission. There was an overly romantic notion of the healing power of the TRC, according to the writer - a South African who was able to interview many who testified in their own African languages. This makes a difference to what they would have said - firstly because they were able to exactly express their thoughts, and secondly because they obviously felt comfortable in saying what they thought without worrying about what an outsider to their community might think.
The TRC was set up quickly and without much infrastructure (no office, etc). The commission invited people to volunteer to testify, but not much thought was given to who might come forward, and in the event many people found themselves hearing about it from neighbours, community contacts, etc. The sessions were conceived as being not for vengeance or retaliation, but for reparation and forgiveness.
No thought was given to the psychological effects of having to testify in front of television and a national audience. Survivors (they do not like the term ‘victims’) were asked to open old wounds, but in return for what?
The TRC was set up ostensibly for one side to offer forgiveness, but without apology. Amnesty was offered in exchange for “full” disclosure, including of torture and murder. This appeared to reflect a religious propensity towards forgiveness being in itself cathartic. However, the results were obviously not considered to be quite so sanguine because, prior to the sessions, promises were made by the TRC to those willing to testify. Survivors were offered, among other things, free education for their children, houses and money. Above all, they believed their stories would be heard. But, apart from that, the promises disappeared with the TRC itself.
President Mbeki originally offered R100,000 per person over six years. He later rescinded this, saying the government had no money, but the survivors/testifiers were not told and only heard of it through the media. For them, the TRC was not the unifying, cathartic experience its supporters, including Desmond Tutu, had hoped.
One of the promises made was that the bodies of many who had been abducted/murdered would be recovered after full disclosure and then a proper burial would be available. With the exception of three of the parents of young men abducted, this simply didn’t happen. Since the perpetrators were not expected to apologise, there was no compulsion on them to explain totally either. What “full” meant in the phrase “full disclosure” became a moveable feast.
In general, those who had testified felt afterwards that the TRC had promised much and delivered little. There was no assessment of the structural injustices of apartheid. Focusing on individuals and not the victimisation of whole communities meant to them that their struggles had been in vain. In addition many felt that, if white people were not prepared to share resources, if black people were not on the same level as whites, neither reconciliation nor forgiveness was possible. They felt, in effect, that they were being asked to forgive the unforgivable.
The ANC Freedom Charter states: “The country will never be prosperous and free until all people live in brotherhood, enjoying equal rights and opportunities.” Many of those who testified know this is not coming to pass in the South Africa of today, and feel that in the TRC the perpetrators won in the end.