I know this is now old history, but I feel I must reply to comrade John Pearson (Letters, December 9 1999), who challenged me to defend or refute the statement contained in my Weekly Worker article of way back last year.
I wrote: "Previously the CPGB did not rule out the possibility of giving Livingstone critical support in the unlikely event of his name being on the ballot form for mayor next year. But we said: 'The left should consider backing him only if he breaks with Blair and stands as a socialist' (February 18 1999). Having now placed himself well and truly in the camp of social-imperialism however, Livingstone has ruled himself out as a candidate that any socialist, democrat or anti-imperialist could even think of supporting" (April 22 1999).
I do indeed have criticisms of what I wrote then. Firstly, the implication that communists ought never to vote for social-imperialists in the labour movement is clearly incorrect. Lenin had no hesitation in proposing that communists in Britain should support the Labour Party "like the rope supports the hanged man" in 1920, even though many of its leaders and MPs had been enthusiastic participants in the imperialist war effort.
Our prime consideration when formulating our tactics regarding the Labour Party must be the strategic goal of breaking its stranglehold over the working class. The movement that arises from any break is obviously the key - not the politics of the tops who give voice to it (although of course their overall politics will to some degree determine the initial character of that break).
My remarks were made following Livingstone's open support for bomber Blair's assault on ex-Yugoslavia - which, incidentally, seemed at that time to more closely align 'Red Ken' with the Blair project. I was not alone in believing that he was using the London mayoralty as a bargaining chip in order to further his career. That is why I stressed "the unlikely event of his name being on the ballot form" - as a result of stitching up a deal, when he would effectively be a Blairite candidate pure and simple.
That was how we viewed him in the May 1997 general election. At that time it was correct to place conditions on any support for left Labourites. But we did not in fact crudely demand that Livingstone, or any other Labour candidate, "breaks with Blair and stands as a socialist" as one of those conditions. However, early in 1999, when it seemed Ken was not serious in challenging Blair, it was right to emphasise the need for an independent intervention - if Livingstone would not do it, then the left would.
I sit here weeping floods of tears caused by my heartless treatment at the hands of Jack Conrad - not only was every single idea in my letter on the Irish question ignored, except for a name check in his summing up, but in his sweeping pigeon-holing of all opposition to himself as "inconsistent democrats" it was fundamentally distorted.
Bollocks to a united Ireland, I say, and have consistently said. I can only campaign with all my strength for the day when Ireland can be condemned to the dustbin of history, along with the arseholingly tragicomic idea of the nation-state itself. Nowhere have I demanded that the workers of Ulster be compelled to live under any of our masters' demarcations of property. Yet I am, though, lumped in with all who would do so.
To be clear, as a consistent democrat I believe that the workers of Ireland, and anywhere else, are free, entirely, to go on voting for capitalism, and capitalist political structures - I just wish they'd stop it. However, as a socialist, I can only strive to demonstrate the absolute irreconcilability that nationalism has to communism, and call upon workers to abandon such ideology in their own self-interest, for actual self-determination. Fiddling with boundaries and erecting new parliaments is not the acme of democracy; abolishing capitalism - and that alone - is.
Further, Conrad states that no one opposed Stalin's categories of nationalism. These would be the categories I dismissed as "symptomatic" (Letters, November 25) in preference to a more rigorous understanding of the essence/logic of nation. To view the nation - after Hegel - as the universalisation of property, as a selected tradition. But then I am apparently a gibbering fruit-loop with an infantile disorder, so my arguments must not be worth answering.
To reiterate then - a nation is merely a domain of masters, and to be consistently democratic is not to choose between masters, but to put an end to all masters. Socialists should have nothing to do with drawing lines of property, of demarcating the world, and should treat it, and the pompous, idiotic ideas of patriotism and nationalism that such demarcation necessarily spews up, with all the contempt that it deserves. Our struggle must be for one world, without borders, without nations - self-determination for people, not peoples.
The editor of the paper really needs to get a grip. He has printed two letters and one article in last week's paper (Weekly Worker January 20) accusing me of making up stories to the effect that Mary Ward, Nick Clarke and Marcus Larsen had abandoned their support for a federal republic.
I challenge them all to pinpoint precisely where I made this claim. If they bothered to read my RCN report (Weekly Worker January 13), they would spot that I outlined my own continued support for such a republic. So they ought to have worked out that if I thought they had abandoned their support, I would not pass over it in silence; on the contrary, I would try to convince them of why they were wrong to do so.
Given the restrictions of a letters page contribution, it would be impossible to reply in detail to Marcus's letter and to Dave Craig's article. I must however respond immediately to comrade Ward.
If she really is too busy to do anything more than dismiss my account of the debate with the condescending remark, "particularly imaginative spin", how can I possibly defend myself? Because she refuses to elaborate on what precisely she thinks I got wrong, I will have to take an educated guess. If I guess wrong, she knows what she has to do.
Mary and Nick dropped any mention of the federal republic from their proposed motion because they knew they were vastly outnumbered by supporters of a Scottish workers' republic, on the one hand, and of a centralised British workers' republic, on the other. They calculated (correctly) that these two groups would have joined forces to vote down any reference to a federal republic. Thankfully, everyone at the meeting was prepared to compromise on our preferred constitutional relationship between the various countries of Britain in order to get unanimity. However, while we could all agree to put onto the backburner our differences on this question, no one was prepared to accept Mary's and Nick's choice of phrase, "modern democratic republic". It was this, and this alone, which caused the stooshie.
Everyone thought that the RCN would be derided as the extreme right - not the extreme left - if we counterposed the majority SSP position of an "independent socialist Scotland" with the limited demand for a capitalist republic along the lines of the United States, this being how we interpreted the original motion. While not everyone at the meeting would describe themselves as a Leninist, I think all the CFR's critics would have no problem echoing the following quote from State and revolution:
"In capitalist society, providing it develops under the most favourable conditions, we have a more or less complete democracy in the democratic republic. But this democracy is always hemmed in by the narrow limits set by capitalist exploitation, and consequently always remains, in essence, a democracy for the minority, only for the propertied classes, only for the rich. Freedom in capitalist society always remains about the same as it was in the ancient Greek republics: freedom for the slave-owners. Owing to the conditions of capitalist exploitation the modern wage slaves are so crushed by want and poverty that 'they cannot be bothered with democracy', 'they cannot be bothered with politics'; in the ordinary, peaceful course of events the majority of the population is debarred from participation in public and political life."
There is much more in the same vein in this path-breaking pamphlet. And, far from his having subsequently retracted this view, dismissing it (à la comrade Larsen) as "eclectic economism", Lenin devoted the remaining years of his life to reiterating and developing these themes in The proletarian revolution and the renegade Kautsky and elsewhere.
When Mary and Nick agreed to substitute their term 'modern democratic republic' with the term 'genuinely democratic workers' republic', everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief, assuming they had finally woken up to why it would be insane for the RCN to identify itself with a 'slave-owners' democracy'. Tragically, Mary's letter proves we were wrong. What it fails to explain is precisely why she (and Nick) did vote for the amended motion. Now that Dave Craig has told them that it is ambiguous, do they intend to vote against it at SSP conference?
I thought that I had lost the ability to be surprised at the rubbish that some Trotskyite comrades continually spout. But then the cavalry arrived with Dave Osler's reply to my review of Frank Kofsky's "marvellous" book on John Coltrane (Weekly Worker January 13), launching us into the millennium with a familiar trail of ignorance and cack-handed distortion.
Osler glibly informs us that, "All socialists who take music seriously will enjoy this book." At this point we should refer readers to Robert Wilkins' recent review in the pages of What Next? No14, which made some similar points to my own, going as far as to state, "If this is Marxist music criticism, I am forced to conclude [that] I am not a Marxist music critic." Interesting that two people 'serious' enough to want to review Kofsky's wretched tome should come to essentially the same conclusion. Osler's exhortation that "all socialists" will enjoy it is a bit of a porky-pie, revealing the same outlook as that of the sect leader who simply knows what is best for the working class and sod the evidence to the contrary.
I am accused by Osler of producing little evidence beyond assertion to support my case against Kofsky. Well, all I can say is that Dave should really learn to control his poodle, who obviously intercepted his paper on the door-mat and gouged out large chunks of my review with her teeth. Other than that I can only surmise that Osler is permanently addicted to the art of telling fibs. Read the 'shit-sheet' a bit more carefully next time, Dave.
Let me ask readers: if you had a book in front of you that was "reduced to using, for want of anything more serviceable ... 'the method of plausible guesses'", wouldn't you be an incy bit suspicious that it was not up to much? Of course, as we have seen, Osler is prone to the odd distortion of reality himself, so we should not really be surprised that he flies Kofsky's flag so diligently. But then perhaps this is all to be expected from someone who informed readers in one of his boring articles that in the past he had publicly gone along with the idea that the USSR was a degenerated workers' state whilst privately believing it was a form of bureaucratic collectivism. Osler has no record of voicing doubts and hesitations, so why should we believe him now? Kofsky's book could be being fed to Dave's poodle as we go to the printers.
In the midst of his scintillating analysis Osler muses how odd it is that I choose not to mention Kofsky's adherence to the US SWP. I plead utterly guilty to trying to understand how art forms mediate reality and for not wanting to provide a road map for the esoteric Trotskyite soul. I realise this is a very peculiar character trait and I will certainly do my best to be more orthodox in the future.
The clincher really is that Osler simply does not understand my review when he argues that, "Almost 40 years of bowdlerisation have obviously blunted much of hard bop's musically revolutionary qualities. Harlem or Watts, circa 1964, must have been a radically different proposition to a night out in Pizza Express, comrade [chortle!]". This particular fabrication makes it look as if I was in denial concerning the historical content of Coltrane's music, a notion that even a cursory glance at my piece would assuage. I do not contend that hard bop lacked a revolutionary edge: I merely reasoned that this revolt was worked on the basis of formal artistic laws, an elementary Marxist proposition that Kofsky's muddle simply cannot comprehend. Art is specific or it is nothing.
Osler finishes the stream of consciousness in the tone of the world-weary hack: "I know from my own experience how difficult it is [sob] for leftwing publications to maintain anything like consistent cultural coverage." Well, Dave, I don't think that the majority of Weekly Worker correspondents would really recognise your heartfelt woes. There are no blocks to writing such coverage for our paper. It is probably best to assume that your history in the philistine dungeons of Socialist Outlook and Socialist Democracy (sic) is confined to the shabby Trotskyite movement to which you belong.
On Saturday February 5 the first meeting of Republican Communist Network members in England will be held in London. The provisional agenda for the meeting indicates that there will be a discussion on the importance of republicanism for the communist movement. This will be followed by discussion on an organisational structure for the RCN.
The Network was set up in Scotland, with founding members from England and Scotland. The objective was to unite all republican communists around the slogans of 'republicanism', 'revolutionary democracy', 'workers' power' and 'world communism'. One additional slogan is being debated and three options have been put forward: either 'international socialism', 'international socialist revolution' or 'international revolution'.
The Network has agreed and defined its aims. First is to promote awareness of republican communist ideas within the wider socialist and working class movement. This is connected to the second aim of organising educational meetings and coordinating joint activity. The third aim is to deliver solidarity to working class, republican, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist struggles. The fourth aim is to promote and develop the cultural aspects of the struggle for socialism in the here and now.
The meeting will held in the Railway pub on York Way, next to Kings Cross Station, and will begin at 1pm.