Thanks for the article, ‘Fight for a red planet’ (Weekly Worker July 22). We have posted a somewhat similar (short) article - ‘ Prophets of doom plot global destruction in 1999’ (www.gnostics.
We definitely hear what you’re saying. With due respect, we think your manner of saying it harks back a bit too much to the old-style offensive attitude, which inherently implies a defensive or compensatory attitude. We’re guilty of it too. What we would like to see is a more enlightened or multidimensional approach to international social revolution/communism.
Please accept these remarks in the true spirit of solidarity with which they are offered.
Louise Whittle makes decent points against Lila Patel’s gushing praise of Respect and is right to emphasise the importance of the new Labour Representation Committee (Letters, July 22).
But when she tells us that the LRC gives “socialists and trade unionists” in and around the party “something ... to fight for”, she doesn’t tell us what that “something” actually is. While we should support the LRC’s attempts to regroup Labour comrades, what politics should the new organisation have, comrade Whittle?
Too many LRC comrades are very coy about this. Do we really have to rerun the betrayals of Labourism - right and left - in this new century? Can’t we build something a little better this time?
John Grimshaw writes: “Does the SWP seriously believe it is powerful enough to overturn the hold of centuries of religious belief on its own? Will it start throwing out those muslims who openly express homophobic views, or for that matter white middle class politicians who do not agree with abortion?” (Letters, July 22).
My views on the Socialist Workers Party were stated in my letter, ‘Gay rights’ (Weekly Worker July 1). I voiced the opinion that the SWP is scarcely in a position to champion the cause of gay rights. The issue here, however, is John’s concern that the SWP will start throwing out muslims who openly support homophobic views, and white middle class politicians who don’t support abortion.
My utter disgust and disdain for the thoroughly reformist SWP aside, there is a saying in the communist movement, ‘The party strikes with a single fist’, which means that, while members may disagree with their party’s position on an issue, they are obliged to publicly support the positions that the party has adopted, though they are free to internally debate the issues. For, if members are free to publicly express opinions that differ from the opinions of the party, then you don’t have a party - an organism for working class power - but rather an association of individuals.
The secret of political power lies in the fact that an organism is greater than the sum of its parts. Ten people heaving themselves against a locked door will not be able to force it unless they act in unison. In effect, they’ve created an organism. If the cells that make up one’s body were to ‘decide’ to do things on their own, rather than carry out their assigned tasks, then the organism would be afflicted with cancer.
John Grimshaw’s position on party discipline and democratic centralism was shared by none other than the Mensheviks.
I enjoy reading the Weekly Worker - its polemic and letters page - but I’m still going to be hostile to the left splitting hairs all the time and dividing into even smaller groups or ‘parties’. Surely there must be someone on the left everyone respects to knock a few heads together and end the cycle of sectarianism and tribalism?
There seem to be only two ways to engage people: populism or standing firm on workers’ politics. Either way has its problems, as highlighted in your paper. Although I don’t see myself as even a socialist, Marxists should be heard. After all, Marx spent his whole life writing about the ills and benefits of capitalism.
SWP and freedom
I was studying the list of taped sessions from the SWP’s school, Marxism 2004 - like you do - when a meeting not attended by CPGB comrades caught my eye. On July 11, we missed a talk on ‘What do we mean by freedom?’
Well, my cheque was in the post the next day! I can’t wait to find out what was said! Hopefully, the meeting explored the idea of Rosa Luxemburg that freedom in any meaningful sense must mean the freedom to think differently. Also, that communists’ opposition to censorship - remember Marx’s stinging polemics against the autocratic Prussian state - both anticipates and helps shape the intellectually permissive society we fight for under socialism and communism. All in all, I’m sure the session was a humdinger and I know all CPGBers will be sorry they missed it.
One tiny niggle, however. Apparently, this session was presented by Helen Salmon. Surely this cannot be the same Helen Salmon who repeatedly planted herself directly in front of CPGB comrades at the final rally of this year’s Marxism, unsuccessfully trying to stop them giving out leaflets for our own forthcoming school, the Communist University?
SWP and freedom
SWP and freedom
Thanks for the space devoted to Steve Cooke’s piece on the Durham miners’ gala (‘Reclaiming Labour dominates debate’, July 15).
There are a couple of points of correction though. Thousands did brave the bad weather to attend, but actually it was tens of thousands - true, not the crowds that came last year in blazing sunshine, but still the largest trade union/working class/labour movement demonstration and gala in Europe.
Actually we still have one pit open in the north east - Ellington in Northumberland - though the last pit in Durham itself did close 11 years since. The traditional rendition by one of the bands was not Abide with me, but Gresford, the miners’ hymn, played for all the men killed in the industry over the years. Arthur Scargill was not on the platform, or in the crowd or anywhere in Durham.
Other than that, a fair report.
Death in detention
On July 23, a detainee at Dungavel removal centre, believed to be a Chinese national, took his own life. The asylum-seeker had been brought to Dungavel from Harmondsworth after it was closed because of rioting by detainees, over the death of another asylum-seeker on July 19.
The Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees is horrified, but unsurprised, by the terrible news that someone seeking asylum in this country has been driven to take his own life. We are unsurprised because the draconian nature of David Blunkett’s policies on detention and deportation makes suicides all but inevitable.
There have been attempted suicides in Dungavel in the past, as there have been at other UK detention centres. The simple question that Blunkett must answer is: why are asylum-seekers who are facing deportation taking their own lives if not through genuine fear of persecution, torture or murder in their countries of origin?
This tragic death exposes two key elements of the Labour government’s asylum policy. Detention of people who have committed no crime is shown as not only immoral, but also fatal. The government’s contention that it only deports people to safe countries is thrown into crisis.
In the past, the home office has been forced, by public and international pressure, to suspend deportations to Zimbabwe of members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Yet people have been deported to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Afghanistan while the countries were still war zones. The government are still trying to deport people to Sudan, which now has the worst humanitarian crisis the world has seen for a decade.
This suicide, once again, points to the moral bankruptcy of Blunkett’s deportations. The home secretary spends his time trying to placate the rightwing press’s insatiable appetite for ever tougher measures against asylum-seekers, instead of prioritising the needs of those fleeing persecution. He has blood on his hands, and he should resign.
Death in detention
Death in detention
Thanks to Hugh Tynan for his feedback regarding my review of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 (Letters, July 22).
We shall have to agree to differ over whether the movie merits comrade Tynan’s praise as “probably one of the best people’s films ever made”. I enjoyed Fahrenheit 9/11, but personally I felt that Bowling for Columbine was a more satisfactory work overall.
Comrade Tynan takes issue with the review’s description of the evacuation of bin Laden family members from the US in the immediate aftermath of the World Trade Center attack as a “disputed claim”. Here, I find myself having to defend something I did not write because the word ‘disputed’ was inserted by the Weekly Worker editor after the copy left my hands. Nevertheless, the findings of the 9/11 commission released last week would appear to vindicate that editorial judgement call. The report states that no flights involving Saudi nationals took place before the flight ban was lifted. Moreover, the commission finds no evidence to support the allegations of high-level political interference or favourable treatment for the bin Ladens and, contrary to Moore’s account, the FBI did interview nearly all of the 26 family members, who left the country on September 20 2001, after the air travel restrictions had been lifted.
Whether we accept this version of events is another issue, but, so long as one side says that something sinister happened and the other side says that it did not, the allegation in the movie must by definition remain a “disputed claim”.
I may have missed something, but how can tailing Labour (old or new - it amounts to the same) be seen as ‘left’, while providing the mainstay of Respect, the first credible alternative political organisation to Labour in decades, be seen as “right, right, right” (Weekly Worker July 15)? This is the political analysis of the kindergarten, or on second thoughts perhaps it’s the graveyard. Certainly, it’s infantile leftism of the worst kind.
I salute John Rees and his comrades for making a positive contribution to progressive politics in this country and offering some hope amid the reigning desolation and cynicism!
I’m sure Lenin’s Iskra must have got its fair share of letters along the lines of ‘Why don’t you concentrate on attacking the tsar instead of other socialists?’, but you would have hoped that, over a century later, comrades might have learned a few lessons.
Not Shaun Tinsley, apparently. On July 15, he was in our letters page asking us why we don’t attack “the real enemy, Tony Blair” instead of pursuing our “obsession with the Socialist Workers Party”. And last week, he was bemoaning our “predictable attack” on the SWP’s Marxism school (Letters, July 22).
Well, comrade, we disagree with much of what the SWP passes off as ‘Marxism’ - that’s why. Given the period we work in, the ‘model’ we believe holds most lessons is that of the struggle waged by Iskra to purge the Russian revolutionary movement of alien political trends. To this end, it “mocked and flayed” the economists. Its polemical campaign against the Socialist Revolutionaries even “produced deep disquiet among … a certain section of workers who said: why fight among ourselves?” (G Zinoviev History of the Bolshevik Party p74).
At the time, Trotsky noted that this epochal publication was frequently accused of “fighting not so much against the autocracy as against the other factions in the revolutionary movement” (M Liebman Leninism under Lenin p29).
Any of this sounding familiar to you, comrade Tinsley?
Of course, these and similar quotes have been used many times in our press to explain the role of our paper. Isn’t it time SWPers such as our exasperated correspondent stopped moaning about the very existence of our polemics and started answering some of them?
In the July 22 edition of the Weekly Worker, ‘Party notes’ lists “open borders, republicanism and workers’ representatives on a worker’s wage” as “basic socialist principles”.
Later on it states: “Respect is a left populist formation”, but the Weekly Worker seems to be strangely silent on candidates of the ‘Democratic Socialist Alliance’ - or on ‘independent socialists’, in the case of Steve Godward - who do not stand on “basic” (your word) “socialist principles”. In the case of Steve Godward there was no mention of “open borders” or even any mention of defending asylum-seekers. No mention of the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, no mention of republicanism or the defence of abortion rights, etc, etc. Actually there was little by way of a clear socialist position in any of Steve’s leaflets, which were clearly to the right of Respect. Does this make his campaign a reformist populist formation?
Why is the Weekly Worker silent on this question? Maybe it is convenient not to answer, since that may stand in the way of inviting Steve Godward to speak at CPGB events - he spoke at a CPGB fringe meeting at Marxism 2004.
By the way, I sent to a letter to Solidarity, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty fortnightly, in June 2004. The first part was printed, but the second part, making a critical evaluation of an AWL local election candidate, was removed. Alison Brown’s campaign is described as “principled” in Solidarity (June 24), but it was lacking in the same way as Steve’s.
Here is what Solidarity did not publish:
“On the issue of election leaflets I would like to make some points on the campaign of Alison Brown, supporter of Workers’ Liberty, standing as a Democratic Socialist Alliance candidate in Sheffield. Workers’ Liberty comrades played a prominent role at the meeting to found Respect on January 25, insisting that Respect could not be supported unless it backed a policy of open borders for asylum-seekers and candidates standing on a worker’s wage.
“Alison has a reasonable section entitled ‘Stop the BNP - defend asylum-seekers’, which is almost identical with what you would read in a Respect leaflet. However, where was the call for open borders?
“Despite a fairly detailed section entitled ‘Fund council services - tax the rich!’, there is no commitment by the candidate to accept a worker’s wage. Some councillors receive over £40,000 a year, way beyond a worker’s wage. So after acres of demagogic polemic on this question the comrades completely ignore their own propaganda.
“In the NUT general secretary election Workers’ Liberty are correctly supporting Ian Murch, who makes no commitment to a worker’s wage. His opponent, Martin Powell-Davis, a Socialist Party candidate, makes a very clear commitment to serve as the NUT general secretary on a ‘class teacher’s wage’. I know of no proposal from AWL supporters to commit Ian Murch to a worker’s wage.
“The contrast between the agitated propaganda by AWL supporters at the Respect founding meeting and the fact that they do not raise these issues in their own political work shows me that Workers’ Liberty practise factional hypocrisy with almost no limit.”