Letters

Shibboleth

Brethren ... just in case, like me, you never knew the meaning of the new in-word used by the vicar (John Rees) and Ms German, then here it is:

Shibboleth: noun - a custom, phrase or use of language that acts as a test of belonging to, or as a stumbling block to becoming a member of, a particular social class, profession, etc (from Hebrew; literally: ear of grain; the word is used in the Old Testament by the Gileadites as a test word for the Ephraimites, who could not pronounce the sound ‘sh’)” - Collins Dictionary 1992.

And here it is, taken from the vicar’s favourite new book, the Holy Bible, which seems to have replaced Das Kapital for the foreseeable future:

“Then Jephthah gathered together all the men of Gilead, and fought with Ephraim: and the men of Gilead smote Ephraim, because they said, Ye Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites, and among the Manassites. And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites: and it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay; Then said they unto him, Say now ‘Shibboleth’: and he said ‘Sibboleth’: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand” (Judges, 12:4-6, KJV).

I suppose we can all expect a copious amount of quotes from the Holy Qur’an next. Perhaps in the future, just to claim that we are non-sectarian socialists, we should all pepper our emails and articles with words from holy writings of islam, hebrew, hindu or how-do origins.

One thing is for sure: if the vicar and Ms German aren’t stopped, we will be reading of the shidduch between the Socialist Alliance and a plethora of anti-gay, anti-communist, anti-feminist, anti-progressive religious sects over the coming months. As Jim Royle would say, ‘Socialist, my arse’.

Myself, a member of the working class and of ‘low awareness’, I have to settle for ‘What a load of bollocks’.

Shidduch: Yiddish; noun; 1a: an arranged marriage. b: the arrangement of a marriage. 2: any negotiated agreement.

Bollocks: pl, noun, ... an explanation of annoyance, disbelief, etc.

Shibboleth
Shibboleth

Just flawed

Cheap abuse towards the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty is your stock in trade at present, so I wasn’t surprised to read Kit Robinson’s trite remarks about my review of Alex Callinicos’s new book in Solidarity (‘Valuable but flawedWeekly Worker July 10).

I’ve argued that the book is riven with utopianism, making it pretty worthless. I might be wrong about this, but it would be helpful if Robinson could at least engage with the argument.

First, for Callinicos, socialism is not the product of advanced capitalism. He is so keen to avoid association with neoliberal ideas that he cannot bring himself to analyse the side of globalisation that has further prepared the prerequisites for socialism - such as the growth of large working classes and militant labour movements in places like Brazil and Korea. Instead, socialism is presented as just a ‘good idea’.

Secondly, he does little to educate young activists in the anti-capitalist movement. There is no attempt to convince them to turn to the labour movement, as campaigns like No Sweat try to do. Unionising workers in Starbucks is far harder than putting a brick through their windows, but you won’t find the Socialist Workers Party or Globalise Resistance organising a union drive.

Thirdly, Callinicos’s “transitional programme” is not aimed at the working class, but rather at the global justice movement. There is a substitution going on in the SWP’s politics, in which the working class is being displaced. The case for socialism as the self-emancipation of the working class is alluded to, perhaps asserted, but not coherently argued for. At the very least Callinicos appears to think the movement can play the role of a workers’ international.

Finally his “transitional programme” is nothing of the sort. The whole point of the transitional method is to mobilise the working class to fight for socialism. Transitional demands start from the reality of working class life and working class consciousness. Callinicos’s programme is a shopping list of good causes - rather like the Socialist Alliance programme at the last general election.

Trotsky’s Transitional programme in 1938 spoke of facing reality squarely, not seeking the line of least resistance, calling things by their right names, and basing one’s programme on the logic of the class struggle. For Trotsky that’s what separated Marxism from utopian socialism. Callinicos does none of these things and that’s why his book is simply flawed.

Just flawed
Just flawed

SP picking up

Political contributions in your paper by various correspondents would be taken a little bit more seriously if they were honest. Baldly characterising the Socialist Party as having declined from a great height to the depths of irrelevance is inaccurate.

I spoke to several members of the SP in Ireland who travelled over, who independently agreed that 400 attended Socialism 2003, while your paper reported 250. Your correspondents then go on to characterise the perspectives of the SP/Committee for a Workers’ International as being lost and muddled.

Of course, even when I lived in the UK most on the left didn’t seem to understand anything other than the occupation of the north of Ireland was wrong - boo hoo. If you want tub-thumping ‘thousands are joining us’, when they are not, and the only interesting comments on Ireland about the so-called armed struggle (ended 10 years ago), go to a Socialist Workers Party rally.

It is correct to say that the SP has had a difficult time of it recently, but that 400 attended Socialism 2003 is an indication that numerically things have picked up. Our party in Ireland, the UK and elsewhere is the only one that has achieved electoral strength in more than one country, which, while modest, shows the true weakness of others. Also our base within the unions is not rivalled by any other force on the left.

So excuse us if we aren’t in a canteen bunfight with all on the left, but any major movement in society will bypass the Socialist Alliance and its myriad of fictitious affiliates. Our perspective is to build with a new influx of members not embittered by experience of the sterile politics of the CPGB, SWP, etc.

SP picking up
SP picking up

SP excesses

In reply to Steve Williams, my review of the CWI website was perhaps guilty of slightly over-egging the pudding (Letters, July 10). Yet, if it is taken in conjunction with my piece on the SP (Weekly Worker January 9), the “virtual vanity” does become apparent.

You have to practically excavate the foundations of the SP website to find a link to non-SP/CWI sites. Just an example: when I clicked on what I assumed to be a link to the European Social Forum, I was instead treated to an article on it! When you combine this with the CWI’s “best socialist analysis” boasting, you have got to ask what sort of purpose this narcissism serves. Is it borne out of sectarian arrogance, an inferiority complex or both? I don’t know.

It just seems weird to me, as I remain an admirer of the SP, despite my criticisms of its daft excesses.

SP excesses
SP excesses

Child abuse

Judging by his ‘response’ to my letters, I can feel sympathy with those who are irritated by Ian Donovan’s views.

Ian states that the CPGB as a whole supports his views. If so, why has no other CPGB comrade written in his defence? I suspect that within the CPGB there are those who would shrink from leaping to the defence of one whose arguments share many disturbing similarities with those that paedophiles use, (constantly arguing for the age of consent to be lowered and infamously seeing paedophiles as victims: a stance which Ian has become notorious for making).

It’s more than hypocrisy that the CPGB is (rightly!) up in arms about the dumping of anti-sexist and anti-homophobic principles by the SWP within the Socialist Alliance, and yet apparently has no principles, revolutionary socialist or otherwise, when it comes to the protection of children.

I wonder whether, if Donovan had praised racists in the same way as he praised the paedophile Jonathan King, the CPGB central committee would be so blasé?

Child abuse
Child abuse

Workers' state?

Jack Conrad’s generally excellent ‘Party notes’ column contained in passing the comment, “Nor should it be forgotten that the regime ushered in by the October 1917 revolution was the worker-peasant alliance in power. The country became a workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ republic” (Weekly Worker July 3).

This formula needs to be handled with a certain degree of caution. I recently came across the following quotes.

First, the constitution of the RSFSR, adopted by the fifth all-Russia congress of soviets in July 1918, stated: “The main objective of the constitution of the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, designed for the present transitional period, is to establish the dictatorship of the urban and rural proletariat and the poorest peasantry in the form of a powerful All-Russia soviet government, with a view to completely suppressing the bourgeoisie ...” (article 9).

Secondly, in January 1921, Lenin commented as follows: “I must correct another mistake of mine. I said: ‘Ours is not actually a workers’, state but a workers’ and peasants’ state’ ... What I should have said is: ‘A workers’ state is an abstraction. What we actually have is a workers’ state, with this peculiarity: firstly, that it is not the working class but the peasant population that predominates in the country, and, secondly, that it is a workers’ state with bureaucratic distortions’” (VI Lenin Collected works Vol 32, Moscow 1977, p48).

Of course, whether either formula was right is open to question.

Workers' state?
Workers' state?

Middle England

The strange world of comrade Mick Creswell continues to turn. He seems stuck in an ideological position about the nature of the working class in the UK (Letters, July 10).

Having earlier stated my understanding of class in these pages, I’ll not repeat myself, but rather address the comrade’s assertion that the left is more influenced by middle England radicalism than working class militancy. Middle England is bourgeois bullshit designed to make a certain section of the working class feel it’s doing better than another section and is no longer considered on the bottom rung by their lords and masters.

It’s hard to see the wood from the trees with the thought-control job the bourgeoisie has done on the proletariat; a starting place for a clearer view is from the straitjacket of olde Marxism, but increasingly parts of Marxism must be left behind. This is where for me the current situation underlines the need for a reforged Communist Party.

Such a party - ie, part of the class, armed with a programme and theory born in the straitjacket, but working towards a contemporary theory and politics of the working class - will stand the test of reality, organising the vanguard for the war to come.

Middle England
Middle England

Racist nutters

Jack Conrad wrote: “SWP leaders maintain that the most radicalised people in Britain are muslims. By which they generally mean someone who obeys the imam’s call to prayers” (‘No compromise on sexism and homophobia’, July 10).

What complete rubbish! Hundreds of thousands of muslims marched on the streets of London against US and British imperialism. Conrad’s blatant racism has no place in the socialist movement. It is a welcome sign that the SWP has taken a hardened stance against the racist nutters of the lunatic fringe. You represent nothing.

Racist nutters
Racist nutters

Rotten bloc

The sheer size of the anti-war movement shook the ruling class, but is now tending to melt into the political background. The SWP has a blinkered obsession with this movement, which it falsely claims to have built virtually single-handedly. Ironically, such a claim actually downplays the numbers of understandably worried muslims that the mosques were able to mobilise on the streets around the country, as an anti-islamic backlash accompanied the murderous onslaught on Iraq. Now, somewhat bizarrely, the SWP counterposes the anti-war movement to the wider trade union and labour movement, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the latter actually forms a not insignificant part of that very same movement!

Furthermore, while the SWP is certainly a very active component inside the Stop the War Coalition, overblown claims about how many ‘the party’ mobilised on anti-war demonstrations surely tend to crumble away somewhat when it is remembered that the SWP-controlled Unity Committee/Anti-Nazi League could only get about 150 people on the streets of Dudley in one of the recent nationally coordinated demonstrations against racism and the rise in the number of fascist councillors.

Perhaps now the SWP will see the rump which Birmingham SA has effectively become as their ‘united front’ offering for the Peace and Justice European election campaign of 2004. This may well result in the disgraceful attempt to field a candidate on a ticket which downplays women’s rights and ignores gay rights altogether. Such a betrayal of even the most basic of socialist principles will put such a rotten bloc to the right of New Labour on the question of human equality!

Such is the nature of Pyrrhic victories and gross opportunist appetites.

Rotten bloc
Rotten bloc

Get a life

So it’s all right to have christian or atheist homophobes and sexists in the movement then? As socialists we argue against such beliefs, at the same time building the socialist resistance to war and global capital. You lot are sad - you represent no one, snipe at what you cannot achieve. You are welcome to work with other socialists - or confine yourselves to the dustbin of history!

There was no attack on your members on the Saturday - I was at Marxism all morning. Get a life!

Get a life
Get a life

Marxism joy

I have sometimes bought your paper and have found it sometimes has informative articles. But recently the red-baiting of the Socialist Workers Party has simply got too much.

I am not a member of the SWP, but attended this years Marxism 2003 event in London. The coverage in your paper has no connection to what I attended. Put simply, it was a fantastic, informative and open debate. I went to meetings on ancient Rome, fascism, the Middle East, labour history, women’s oppression, amongst many others (Picasso!). The speakers were excellent and many were not from the SWP and had many different ideas. I found, contrary to myth, that they were treated with respect and constructive debate.

The Monbiot meeting was a good example of this. His ideas are important, as many people coming to socialist ideas may well have bought his book and read his column. Whilst I did not think his proposals were completely thought out, it was good to see the SWP trying to engage with him in a comradely manner. There was a brilliant discussion around the book Empire by Negri and once again the SWP speaker (Mr Callinicos) was very thought-provoking in his contribution and the Italian speaker received a very warm welcome.

Whatever differences exist, I do not see the point in endlessly attacking the main force on the left. Let’s all be honest - if the SWP did not exist then the anti-war movement would not have been half as successful as it has become.

I may have differences with some of the SWP policies, but I discussed these with members of the SWP and was really listened to. It was a refreshing week and I will be going next year, as I understand it is an annual event. I was one of many thousands of young people who went to Marxism 2003 and I am sure, as all of those who went thought, it was credit to the SWP and a joy to be amongst thousands of socialists from all round the world.

When the CPGB - who frankly looked bizarre alongside the lunatic fringe - can operate in an open and fraternal way it may be worth attending your events, but whilst you continue to just make sectarian attacks on the SWP I for one will think twice about coming to your meetings and to Communist University.

Marxism joy
Marxism joy