Well founded

If, as Steve Cousins claims, Marx made assertions, I’m pretty sure that they were well founded - unlike those of Cousins. In fact, if you take a look at The poverty of philosophy, his other early economic and philosophical works, Theories of surplus value, as well as Anti-Dühring, they show that he and Engels - far from making unsubstantiated assertions - went overboard on writing detailed analysis and critiques of the views of others.

Steve Cousins clearly didn’t even read my initial letter, let alone Marx’s analysis of inflation as a monetary phenomenon, as set out in A contribution to the critique of political economy. If he had read and understood Marx - for example, in the above or in Capital - he would know that price is simply a specific form of exchange value: ie, the exchange value of commodities expressed in terms of the general commodity/money commodity or, as it develops, the standard of prices. Prices, therefore, as against values, can change either as a result of a change in the value of the commodity (change in productivity/labour-time required for production), or as a result of changes in the value of the money commodity, or later standard of price.

Where the value of individual commodities may change without affecting the general level of prices at all, a change in the value of the money commodity/standard of prices, inevitably affects the general level of prices, causing it to rise when the money commodity/standard of price falls in value, and vice versa. Marx sets out the effect of gold discoveries on the value of gold as a money commodity, but he also sets out that prices are measured in a given quantity of this money commodity - ie, the standard of prices - and this standard of prices changes not only because of changes in the value of the money commodity, but also because of changes in the quantity of the money commodity represented by the standard of prices. If the pound sterling, as standard of prices, is reduced from representing an ounce of gold to representing only a quarter ounce, the value of the pound falls to a quarter of its previous level, and consequently the prices of all commodities rise fourfold.

Cousins asks where Marx’s theory of inflation as a monetary phenomenon resides, yet it’s on almost every other page of A contribution!

Marx notes, in that work: “As a result of an historical process, which, as we shall explain later, was determined by the nature of metallic currency, the names of particular weights were retained for constantly changing and diminishing weights of precious metals functioning as the standard of price. Thus the English pound sterling denotes less than one-third of its original weight, the pound Scots before the union only 1/36, the French livre 1/74, the Spanish maravedi less than 1/1,000 and the Portuguese rei an even smaller proportion. Historical development thus led to a separation of the money names of certain weights of metals from the common names of these weights” (chapter 2).

Had Cousins read my initial letter, he would also have seen my quote from Marx, setting out that, with fiat currency, the value of the standard of price (and hence its exchange relation to all other commodities - ie, their prices) is determined solely by the quantity of it thrown into circulation: “Whereas, therefore, the quantity of gold in circulation depends on the prices of commodities, the value of the paper in circulation, on the other hand, depends solely on its own quantity” (ibid).

I would point Cousins to Trotsky’s analysis of the “socialist inflation” in Russia in the 1920s and 30s, resulting from the same excess liquidity thrown into circulation by the Stalinists (see The revolution betrayed chapter 4). That also deals with Cousins’ and Michael Roberts’ ridiculous claims about the Chinese state being able to determine prices by administrative diktat. However, as a Stalinist, Cousins, if not Roberts, would use any Trotsky reference as yet another opportunity for a rant. So let me go straight to an almost identical statement to that of Trotsky, but this time from Marx and Engels, referring to the rouble under the tsar:

“And for the rest the men with the sword, when they have tried to fabricate a ‘distribution value’, have reaped nothing but bad business and financial loss. With their monopolisation of the east Indian trade, the Dutch brought both their monopoly and their trade to ruin. The two strongest governments which ever existed - the North American revolutionary government and the French National Convention - ventured to fix maximum prices, and they failed miserably.

“For some years now, the Russian government has been trying to raise the exchange rate of Russian paper money - which it is lowering in Russia by the continuous emission of irredeemable banknotes - by the equally continuous buying up in London of bills of exchange on Russia. It has had to pay for this pleasure in the last few years almost sixty million roubles, and the rouble now stands at under two marks instead of over three. If the sword has the magic economic powers ascribed to it by Herr Dühring, why is it that no government has succeeded in permanently compelling bad money to have the ‘distribution value’ of good money, or assignats to have the “distribution value” of gold? And where is the sword which is in command of the world market?” (Anti-Dühring).

In what is another assertion, Cousins says that he remembers me saying that Marx had a theory of inelastic demand. Well it’s news to me, as I have set out the very opposite: that Marx had formulated the concept of price and income elasticity of demand long before the marginalists (See Theories of surplus value, chapter 20, on price elasticity of demand for knives), and its importance is precisely in his rejection of Say’s Law [law of markets], and explanation of crises of overproduction of commodities, as set out in Theories of surplus value, chapters 17 and 20!

But that is just typical of Cousins’ method of unfounded assertions in place of evidence or rational argument - as with his final comment about what he “fully expects” are my ideas, which have nothing in common with what they are.

Arthur Bough


I really think Steve Cousins has got Arthur Bough completely wrong.

One of the things about subscribing to a paper is that you can hold copies back and analyse what people had actually said. Bough argues with lots of people and usually wins - with very erudite opponents. From my belated reading and understanding of Marx’s Capital, Bough has gone beyond Marx and has come up with a clever understanding of the change in the composition of capital (a polemic against two Socialist Party members).

I disagree with Bough, however, that the change in composition of capital won’t stop the decline from a productive to a service form of capitalism. In much earlier articles in the Weekly Worker, Bough talks about cooperatives and future workers-from-peasant economies that presumably would keep capitalism going.

Frank Kavanagh


In his argument that Stalin and his group stole the Left Opposition programme, comrade Andrew Northall’s conclusion is that: “By 1928-29, the economic conditions for socialist transformation had been created and it had become essential to launch socialist revolutionary transformations in both the industrial and agricultural bases of what then very quickly became a strong and mighty, socialist USSR” (Letters, June 8).

But this begs the question that if the economic conditions for socialist transformation of society were only created by 1928-1929, why did Lenin, with Trotsky’s ardent support (basing this on the theory of permanent revolution), launch a socialist revolution back in 1917, when the material conditions for the socialist transformation of society were absent or immature? This was theoretical foolhardiness on the part of Trotsky and political opportunism on the part of Lenin, justified by the need to trigger socialist revolutions in the more advanced capitalist countries - an absurd apology, because no-one with any political wisdom would launch a revolution in one country, particularly a backward country, in the hope of triggering a revolution in another country, especially one which is far more advanced industrially. For instance, we wouldn’t expect a socialist revolution in, say, Nigeria to trigger a socialist revolution in Germany, France or Britain, without the ruling class being able to make short work of it.

In the long term this Leninist/Trotskyist experiment has done serious damage to the struggle for socialism worldwide, leading to the mistakes of Mao and the lunacy of Pol Pot - both attempted to bring about socialist transformations in backward, peasant-dominated societies.

All this was compounded by the fact that the revolutionary movement, in the past (and in the present), continued to base itself on the flawed doctrine of Marxism, which argues at the political level that a dictatorship is necessary to bring in socialism - an argument nowhere to be found in the Communist manifesto, which argues the case for winning the battle for democracy and was written before Marx was later misled by Blanqui.

Blanqui argued the case for dictatorship - a theory which Marx adopted and modified for his own purposes, and thereby misled the whole communist movement, with Marxists, who instead of arguing the case for democratic socialism, initially based on a mixed economy with a leading socialist sector, arguing the case for a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, and the socialisation of all property, which opens the door to political abuses and strengthens the totalitarian tendencies in modern society.

What the Bolsheviks and Lenin didn’t understand consciously was that the next stage of human society is democratic socialism, based on a mixed economy with a leading socialist sector. This is why after the earlier Leninist, Trotskyist lunacy, the New Economic Policy was viewed as a retreat. Of course, I am assuming that an energy crisis doesn’t undermine attempts at the socialist transformation of society in the future.

The revolutionary left has had to pay a heavy price for the mistakes of Lenin and Trotsky in triggering a socialist revolution in a peasant-dominated society, based on the mistaken Marxist view that dictatorship is necessary to bring in socialism. Both Marx and people like Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and Mao failed to understand that dictatorship, regardless of its class content, is a relic of feudalism, and should only be resorted to in a temporary emergency situation, as under the Roman Republic. Sooner or later, communists will have to choose between Marx’s mistake and democratic socialism and win the battle for democracy - which, ironically, means a return to the political standpoint of the Communist manifesto, before Marx was led astray by Blanqui.

Tony Clark
For Democratic Socialism

IHRA definition

Mike Macnair’s report on the new ‘director for free speech’ at the Office for Students under the new Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act shows us just how morally bankrupt our government has become. They seem to have found, in appointing Arif Ahmed as the new ‘free speech tsar’, a suitable stooge to continue their untrammelled support for Israel. He shows in his statement to The Times the direction he plans to take: “The IHRA working definition [of anti-Semitism] is an important tool for understanding how anti-Semitism manifests itself in the 21st century. Adopting it sends a strong signal to students and staff facing anti-Semitism.”

The report states Ahmed is a Cambridge academic philosopher. That a supposedly educated man could spout such tripe is astonishing, yet shows our government is heading in the exact opposite direction of supporting our freedom of speech. I myself was expelled from my union for criticising Israel under the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition, yet Ahmed would no doubt approve.

One might wonder what Liberty, our very own civil rights body, is doing about the IHRA definition? Precisely nothing, in spite of being persuaded by Jewish Voice for Labour activist and Liberty Committee member Jonathan Rosenhead into adopting a 2018 AGM motion against it. Tony Greenstein subsequently tried to get them to act - see his blog of October 2018, ‘Why are the officers and employees of Liberty refusing to implement its policy of opposition to the IHRA?’

In 2019 I myself repeatedly emailed, then struggled at the Liberty AGM to get some action too, with no more success. Virtually all Liberty members who attended the Leeds AGM - some 100 souls - took my flyer, as I stood outside the AGM hall with my banner, and said they agreed it was a matter Liberty should address. But later inside, as I tabled questions whenever I could, the Liberty executive steadfastly refused to respond to my call for action. A succession of Liberty officers lectured us about the dangers of identification technology, yet refused to engage on the greatest attack on our freedom of speech - that of the right to condemn apartheid in Israel (a country which the UK bears absolute responsibility for creating, through the Balfour declaration and subsequent oppression of Palestinian revolt). The Palestine Solidarity Campaign, a body that should lead on the fight, are similarly tragically unwilling to actively oppose the IHRA definition; they even refused to condemn the bogus anti-Semitism attacks on their patron, Jeremy Corbyn.

That Zionism has triumphed in the UK this past seven years is underlined by the fact that the politicised and fraudulent IHRA definition has been adopted by all major political parties (bar the Greens) and all the major unions (bar the PCS) - and now in the person of our new ‘free speech’ champion.

With Starmer’s Labour Party likely to take over next year, the prospects look gloomy, but we know there are yet many Labourites who are embarrassed at their leader’s support for racist Israel. We must redouble our efforts to challenge this awful definition that equates anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. We encourage Labour and union branches to adopt the model motion which can be found on the IHRA page on our website at www.onepalestine.land.

On Sunday, I attended the AGM of the Jews for Justice for Palestinians, whose treasurer asked for suggestions about how to spend their enormous financial reserves. They too are committed to getting rid of this terrible definition and I suggested they take out a big advertorial against it in the trendy Guardian - the newspaper that supposedly champions free speech but, as we all know, refuses to condemn the IHRA definition. I really hope they do.

Pete Gregson
One Democratic Palestine

Top dog?

I don’t know if it’s just me, but has the Weekly Worker gone a bit quiet on revolutionary rapprochement of late? I hope it is just me, because now’s not a good time!

Rather, I think it’s time to consider two things: (1) it’s all well and good to start ‘where the class is at’ à la transitional programme. But if we want workers to change, at some point we’ll need to have an antagonistic relationship with the ideas in their heads. I stress ‘in their heads’, because (2) we must demonstrate that we’re serious about a socialist future.

How? I believe we need to pair this antagonistic relationship with actual, material support for their struggles in the here and now, and here we need numbers. I’m not against the transitional programme, but why is it and the min/max programme always treated as mutually exclusive? It doesn’t make sense to me.

Regarding the above, I can hear comrades screaming, ‘Liquidationism!’ Yes, we must guard against this. Here, unity for unity’s sake is not a good thing. It may well be necessary to split at some point, but this should be when the outcomes of our various ideas are actually beginning to have consequences in the real world.

Bearing in mind there are a lot of new members on the revolutionary left, I wonder how any of this will resonate with them. I really don’t want them to get burned. Right now, the political differences on the revolutionary left exist largely in a vacuum. So, maybe it’s time for the lay membership of all the groups to start putting pressure on their leadership.

We need to ask ourselves how is the class to perceive us, with our lack of objective reasons for all our organisational difference? You can’t blame them if they conclude that we want power for ourselves - power for power’s sake - a bit like different families in the Mafia vying for top dog.

Sian Grech


John Wake’s letter (June 1) on the Harlow Tories’ renaming of Allende Avenue implicitly apologises for Salvador Allende’s illusions in bourgeois democracy. Allende promoted general Augusto Pinochet as his commander-in-chief of the army and disarmed his own militant supporters, when the escalating economic chaos and the collapse was at its height. The capitalist state was assisted in this case by Henry Kissinger and the CIA, whose covert actions actively destabilised the government and set the stage for the coup.

That is the missing element here. Of course, in the communist future there will be the superabundance that the socialist mode of production will bring and so no money, no want and no conflict. The capitalists in any state will not peacefully renounce their privileges and rule, because they cannot see the benefits to them from a mode of production based on production for human need and not for profit. In other words, billionaires, and their political representatives in the Tory Party, in rightwing Labour, in the US Republicans and Democrats will never expropriate themselves.

That will take a revolution; they will defend these privileges by force of arms. Remember that serving general who threatened Jeremy Corbyn? And those threats from the US? The working class will have to mobilise to defeat that counterrevolution. We are many, they are few, but they rule primarily ideologically, so we must prepare for that counterrevolution ideologically.

That is what John Wake’s letter missed.

Gerry Downing
Socialist Fight


Paul Demarty rightly points out - indeed concedes - that the politics of the Teamsters (surely largely an aggregate of small businesses as well as a trade union, comparable to the cliques who brought down Salvador Allende, not to mention the 2000 fuel duty protestors in the UK, a ‘farmer-labour alliance’ bizarre enough to turn Bob LaFollette in his grave) are exceptional (‘Labour and Lubner’s millions’, June 5).

But John L Lewis of the then immense miners’ union was firm in his allegiance to the Republicans, whose protectionist origin in the likes of Henry Clay has always appealed to sectionalism in the working class. Where is my eagle stamp, proudly proclaiming the independence of American labour from foreign government subsidies?

Jack Fogarty

Sexual liberation

Sexuality is a taboo subject in many sectors of the population. It should be part of the discourse of any socialist programme worth its salt - although it would probably be, understandably, a limited part of the overall, non-sexological, political programme.

However, I think sexual liberation is an important analysis - a lofty objective which I don’t expect to fully come to pass until after a socialist revolution. As I see it, sexual liberation is a by-product of gender liberation and other struggles: ie, gay, bi, trans, non-binary movements, etc for liberation. This circumstance will happen in the course of a profound cultural and material metamorphosis of society, such as transpired during and after the heady time of the Bolshevik revolution, when there was the collectivisation of housework, childcare and childrearing, canteens, laundry, etc; there was a move away from women’s drudgery, dehumanisation and enslavement, and a progression toward gender and sexual freedom.

A big contributor to the revolution was the liberalisation of divorce laws, which made divorce a simple and accessible proposition by either party - in effect abolishing marriage. Abortion was made free and legal. Illegitimacy was outlawed. Only then could sexual liberation be contemplated. Thanks to Alexandra Kollontai and her compatriots, a high level of advancement was furthered for women’s liberation, children’s and homosexual rights, etc - advances which haven’t been seen since that time.

Unfortunately, the precarious and fledgling revolution was beset with a civil war and imperialist interventionists, as well as male chauvinism and the eventual lack of Soviet state support; the great strides made were cut short and dismantled. Kollontai wasn’t naive or impractical and I believe was well aware of the unfolding contradictions of Soviet society which threatened the newly won gains.

Stalin drove the last nails in the coffin of women’s rights and human emancipation: communism was a dead letter, fossilised into irrelevance. Sexual liberation was always an elusive reality: women (and others) never had the social option and possibility of sexual emancipation in class society - it’s been fraught with danger and requires a degree of power and autonomy that women as a group could never claim to have.

An essential hallmark of gender oppression, which women’s rights movements have investigated and seriously tried to change, is the institutionalised connection of sexuality to reproduction (the apparent raison d’être of the nuclear family; Shulamith Firestone and radical feminists, among others, sought to analyse the family which has been a challenge). The desire for procreation keeps women tied to the traditional family structure - regardless of the decrease in numbers of nuclear, heterosexual families, and regardless of how many women have now entered the waged workforce.

Many women and others are in gender straitjackets: there’s an internalised delusion of power and identity that motherhood-propaganda fosters - an internalisation of false consciousness that operates in the interests of the mercenary, brainless, capitalist robber-barons who rule. Women are characterised as natural, fulfilled breeders in order to exploit their free labour, as well as marginalise and exploit their waged labour. Many women submit to traditional roles out of necessity, pragmatism and survival. The traditional white, heteropatriarchal family remains a forceful structure for the stabilisation and smooth functioning of the social system - maintaining the present labour force, reproducing the future one - an army of wage slaves, and private, non-wage slaves who prop up the nuclear family.

As stultifying as marriage and motherhood can be in the maintenance of the hellish, capitalist synergy of sexuality and reproduction - it’s the situation of choice for many people, who are confronted by a desert of empty options. Karl Marx, influenced by a statement by Charles Fourier, said in 1868: “Social progress can be measured by the social position” of the female sex.

The heterosexual family is still the escapist mechanism and sanctuary in an alienating capitalist system and is the socially acceptable way to raise kids; alternatives were devised in the 60s and 70s in the US, but many were short-lived. As long as sexuality is connected to reproduction, sexual liberation is a far-off mirage in a repressive and at the same time permissive and commercially sexualised culture.

Yet women of colour in the US have developed a different definition of the traditional family and sexuality: motherhood has lost its traditional meaning - black women are heads of households, breadwinners, waged workers and leaders in their communities (also notable are the unbearable hardships visited on black women by a white-supremacist, capitalist system: ie, forced sterilisation, legal kidnapping of children, inadequate medical care, mass incarceration of black men, etc). Claudia Jones, former member of communist parties in the US and UK, pointed out in 1945 that black women are the natural leaders of a communist movement because of their vast experience as leaders. I think her sentiments still apply in the year 2023.

The various political movements of the past which were facilitated and influenced by working class struggles (second-wave feminism apparently arose from working class struggles and the entrance of large numbers of women into the workforce), and also radical feminist and socialist theories and initiatives, did a lot to make women aware of their vulnerabilities. For example, the social oppression and powerlessness of self-sacrifice, the essentialist and idealised myths about the ‘maternal instinct’, and the role of inferiority in a phallocentric social system. As a result many women chose to reject and escape traditional motherhood and free themselves from subservient roles. Ironically, the feminists, socialists and other politicos who raised the red flags of warning, who were tribunes of positive change, were blamed when there weren’t sustainable alternatives created to provide a refuge for the new political and personal subversiveness. They were scapegoated for various adverse circumstances: ie, many women denied their wishes for motherhood or deferred motherhood for too long. The interregnum between the old world and the new world that was beginning to be born was at the root of the crisis: Antonio Gramsci expressed the concept beautifully.

Friedrich Engels, whose work represents spectacular breakthrough scholarship dealing with women’s and gender oppression, contains a number of flaws, which can be forgiven because of inescapable limitations. According to Juliet Mitchell (British psychologist and socialist - see Women: the longest revolution, published in 1966), he did not emphasise the function of reproduction in the dynamic of oppression. His emphasis, as put forward by Mitchell, was on the use-value of women’s non-wage domestic slavery in the family - seen by her as an inattention to the role of reproduction in women’s perennial ‘second-class’ status in class society (I don’t know if she ever modified her view). It is said, I might add, that Engels had a vision of higher forms of the family, but not a vision of its complete abolition (according to Mitchell, in the same publication, abolition of the family is not a productive demand; my view is that Lenin probably would have agreed and called it “phrase-mongering”).

In the pseudo-democracies of the west, sexual liberation seems to be a remote dream. The working class has done all it can do to survive and take care of those members of their nuclear and extended families; free and open relationships are no doubt seen as an irrelevant and unrealisable luxury if considered at all, yet sexual liberation is theoretically, in my view, an important aspect of working class, revolutionary ideology.

The overriding imperative is the support for a multiracial, highly disciplined and organised political party with uncompromising principles. The vanguard of the proletariat must lead the way; the working class is the only force with the interest and capability to accomplish the carrying out of an authentic socialist revolution. All allies under the proletarian banner - for example, from the bourgeois intelligentsia - are invited to join this movement.

Pablo Picasso, member of the French Communist Party from 1944 until his death, is worth quoting here: “... it is your work in life that is the ultimate seduction”.