Red Action's campaign for an 'urgent review' of the attitude of the left to the question of slogans and demands related to asylum and immigration, and implicitly of the whole strategic attitude of the left to these questions, has had an unexpectedly beneficial effect.
It has forced Red Action to refine somewhat its attitude to the left, to deny and implicitly renounce its previous class-baiting of its critics and to adopt a more political tone. If the discussion had achieved no more than that, it would be worth it. The letters from Brian O'Toole (September 14) and Joe Reilly ( href="../352/letters.html">September 21) are certainly evidence of this, as well as in part the letter from Louise Cooper (September 14).
Regarding comrade Cooper's letter, it is slightly disingenuous for her to absolve Red Action supporters from their class-baiting of their critics - but then again her denial of any such intention is an improvement on their initial announcement during the on-line discussion that they constituted the "token working-class representation" in the LSA. But it is certainly an improvement in sentiment, if not in clarity, for comrade Reilly to now attribute critical sentiment within the LSA regarding Red Action's views to "prejudice" against "that half of the [working] class not visibly represented within the LSA".
Presumably this somewhat convoluted schema, based on a passive notion of 'representation' of the working class within what are in reality still qualitatively far too small organisations, means that Red Action now considers that it 'represents' half of the working class, whereas the remainder of the LSA 'represent' the other half. But this is just complete confusion, and wishful thinking.
It is good that Red Action has renounced crude class-baiting as a substitute for political argument, which is a destructive practice that epitomises much of the worst practices of the sectarian left, and which itself has been a not insignificant factor in driving many valuable militants out of left politics, thus damaging the movement. So let me now take up some of the political points made by comrade O'Toole in particular, and briefly address some of the remarks of Andrew Cutting.
Comrade O'Toole accuses me and those who share my views of "ultra-liberalism" for believing that opposition to immigration controls is a matter of principle. He cites the fact that British trade unions saw the First International as a force that could prevent continental workers from scabbing on strikes in Britain, and makes a comparison of this with the current situation. He thereby suggest that, while maintaining that Red Action does not "agree" with immigration controls, it could "conceivably" support such controls in a "tactical" manner in the event of scabbing by immigrant workers in a strike.
But this confuses two separate things - (1) the question of immigration controls by the bosses' state, and (2) the question of workers seeking to defend their strikes against strike-breakers, of whatever nationality.
Even in the event of a particular strike being broken by scabs imported from abroad, why should the strikers advocate that the bosses' state enact measures that do not discriminate between scab and non-scab, simply on the basis of non-citizenship of Britain or whatever country the strikers happen to inhabit? There is certainly no evidence that Marx and the First International advocated any such thing.
Such a 'tactic' would be self-defeating - it would, if anything, deepen the divisions between the strikers and workers of other nationalities, for the simple reason that all such controls are enacted by the state on the basis of citizenship, not the individual's role in any industrial dispute.
Frankly, to call for the bosses' state to take action against scabs is as illusory as to call for the same state to take action against fascists - in reality it just gives the state legal weapons to use against us. In the case of immigration controls, the left would be handing the state an even more divisive and insidious weapon - which would be used primarily against immigrants who support 'native' workers on strike - and even more likely, against immigrant strikers such as those at Grunwick or Hillingdon Hospital, to name but two.
Comrade O'Toole also writes that "referring to the working class with any kind of colour-coded prefix is reactionary and divisive" and "betrays a mindset fixated by colour that is all too common on the left". He thereby appears to advocate a kind of socialism that does not address questions of national and ethnic oppression, and that concerns itself only with the most basic 'bread and butter' issues.
Unfortunately, this strategy does not work, and will not lead to working class unity. Was Karl Marx being "divisive" when he stated about the 'race' question in the United States that, "Labour will never be free in the white skin when in the black it is branded"? Was he being "reactionary" for mentioning that workers with a "white skin", who were under the influence of a reactionary ideology, often acted literally as hangmen for workers with a different colour skin, and thereby undermined the struggle for the emancipation of workers of all colours? I don't think so.
Today, it would be wrong to be simplistically fixated on 'colour' when dealing with questions of the oppression of immigrants and refugees - but not for the reasons that comrade O'Toole maintains. Rather, because many of the latest influx of immigrants are actually of a multiplicity of 'races' - from Somalis to those from the former Soviet bloc, for instance - but nevertheless still face the same familiar persecution. Obviously it would be simplistic to go on calling this 'racism' - but it sure as hell is chauvinism, reactionary through and through, and should be fought down the line.
The question of 'colour' in this sense is not what the debate is about - it is rather about the duty of class conscious workers to defend those without the rights afforded to citizens of a given state, and who are therefore doubly oppressed both as workers and as a form of legal/social pariah. Any equivocation on this duty by the left would be fatal.
Finally, in terms of the Weekly Worker debate, Andrew Cutting's latest offering should be addressed. His complaints about being the victim of Spartacist and SWP-style over-the-top polemics ring somewhat hollow as soon as you read the conclusion of his letter - his claim to be opposed to "anti-immigrant attitudes and measures" while at the same time being in favour of "fighting immigration and multiculturalism" is a neat trick indeed. To extend comrade O'Toole's metaphor slightly, it is no more possible to fight immigration without engaging in hostile activity against immigrants than it is possible to fight strike-breaking without engaging in hostile activity against strike-breakers.
Andrew Cutting's claim to be standing on the ground of 'genuine' Marxism in this regard is simply grotesque - since when have 'genuine' Marxists made the demand to 'fight immigration' a part of their programme?
I suspect that the reason Red Action have not commented on comrade Cutting's lengthy contributions to this debate is that they find his (now explicit) support embarrassing - which I can certainly empathise with.
Members of the Stalin Society took note of the fact that in an article published on April 27 of this year, Jack Conrad, while demolishing the late Tony Cliff's thesis that the erstwhile Soviet Union was state capitalist, goes on to put forward his own thesis, to the effect that the Soviet Union, as from 1928 to its demise, was a bureaucratic socialist society, a society in which a bureaucracy ruled and exploited the masses in the name of socialism. The members of the Stalin Society profoundly disagree with the Cliff thesis as well as Jack Conrad's.
The members of the Stalin Society are also aware of the Weekly Worker's claims to being democratic and wanting to thrash out in open debate such important questions concerning the history and the development of working class struggle, including, doubtless, the all-too-important question of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the USSR.
In view of the above, the Stalin Society has decided to challenge you to an open debate, to be organised under the aegis of the Stalin Society, on the following theme: 'The Soviet Union 1928 onwards: bureaucratic exploitation or proletarian socialism?'
Your September 14 report on the meeting to relaunch the Brent Socialist Alliance stated that the meeting included comrades from the local asylum-seekers campaign. I am a little concerned that this may be misconstrued as meaning that the asylum-seekers campaign is supporting and participating in the Socialist Alliance.
This is not the case. Although individual activists from the campaign (including myself) were at the meeting, the campaign as a whole has not discussed whether or not to support the SA.
The asylum-seekers campaign is broad-based and includes members of the local Green and Labour parties and many individuals not affiliated to any political organisation. In my view if the campaign was to support the LSA it would alienate many people within it and split the unity of the campaign which is crucial to maximising its impact.
In an article just published in the monthly magazine Labour Left Briefing (October 2000), Hackney Labour councillor Stephen Sartain condemns the Labour-Tory alliance currently running the council.
"At one time it would have been unthinkable in traditional Labour areas like Hackney for the Labour Party to ally themselves with the party of Thatcher and Hague," writes councillor Sartain. "The reason they can work together now is that both share very similar policies. The 'best value' programme for local government services is in essence a policy for the privatisation of council services. Education policies that place schools and their funding and accountability outside local education authority control are reactionary. This is not what years of opposition to the Tory government were for and such alliances must be rejected."
Commenting on the article, LSA candidate Diana Swingler said: "Councillor Sartain is right - on education, privatisation and local services there's no longer any real difference between the Tories and Labour. Their coalition governing Hackney has no democratic mandate, and the so-called opposition of the Lib Dems is a charade. That's why we need a real alternative at the ballot box - a choice and a voice for working class people.
"The by-election in Hackney Wick on October 12 is a chance for everyone who's fed up with the big three parties to make their protest heard loud and clear - by voting London Socialist Alliance."
Labour appears to be making next to no effort in the by-election, which is now being fought out between the Lib Dems and the LSA. The absence of any Labour campaign in what was not so long ago a safe Labour seat suggests that Labour would just as soon remain in coalition with the Tories and wants to be spared the embarrassment of having a majority on the council - with no one to share the blame for its policies and performance.
Voters in the Hackney Wick by-election are invited to meet and question Diana at a public meeting to be held on Thursday October 5 at St Dominic's school. The public meeting will be the only one to be held by any of the parties in the by-election. Speakers will include Diana herself, Mark Steel and Les Crowhurst (Homerton firefighter and FBU activist), as well as local council tenants. There will be plenty of time for questions and comments from the floor.
"Coming exactly one week before the by-election, this public meeting will be a unique chance for local people to get to grips with the real issues in this campaign," said Diana. "The more voters I talk to, the more obvious it becomes that working class people in Hackney Wick are fed up to the back teeth with all three major parties. There's a growing hunger for an alternative, and we in the LSA are working to provide it. We are the only party in the by-election opposed to cuts and privatisation, to the sell-off of council homes and sheltered housing. We're the only party saying, scrap the ITNet contract now - with no ifs, ands, or buts! We're the only party that will stand up and fight for the decent public services we in Hackney are entitled to."
Diana Swingler is attracting more and more public support from local people: Les Crowhurst said: "There's only one candidate that any voter who cares about public services can back in this by-election, and that's Diana Swingler."
Khaled Aly, a local paediatric doctor, says: "Working in the NHS, I have seen the devastating effects of poverty and inadequate social services in Hackney. I am supporting Diana Swingler. I know she's committed to fighting for real improvements in this area."
The Hackney Unison Black Workers Group says: "Diana Swingler has campaigned actively for equality and justice in Hackney for many years. She will stand up for working class people, black and white, inside the council chamber and on the streets."
Terry Stuart of the Justice for Harry Stanley Campaign says: "All the other parties have failed to take on the police over deaths in custody. Only LSA members have consistently helped us in our campaign."