At a Walthamstow Stop the War meeting on April 3, I was rather perplexed to hear that in a hustings meeting that we planned to call, it would be inappropriate to ask the local candidates standing to speak about the war in Iraq, the issue of Iran and extending support to democratic groups in Iran.
The convenor of the group (SWP) stressed that Stop the War should invite the local candidates to speak but we could not possibly tell them what to speak on. She went on to emphasise that questions from the floor could focus the candidates minds on the issue of the war.
Naturally I disagreed. I said that if Stop the War was going to go through the effort of building a hustings meeting then the least we should expect is that the candidates talk about the war. But I further argued that we should ask the candidates standing to specifically speak on whether or not they support immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, oppose any invasion of Iran and support groups fighting for democracy in Iran.
As you can imagine, this was all too much. I was told there would have to be consultation with the National Stop the War office as to what the line is. Surely, I thought to myself, is not immediate withdrawal of troops the official line? Is not hands off Iran and support for democratic groups in Iran not the official line? I referred members present at the meeting to a current leaflet advertised on the Stop the War website. The leaflet calls for support for bus drivers in Iran who were recently imprisoned for demanding basic democratic rights.
Unfortunately, due to the lead given by the convenor of the local Stop the War group and the chairperson (also SWP), others present went along with the idea of not getting candidates to address specific demands.
If there was a culture within Stop the War that welcomed open debate and the national office encouraged a certain degree of autonomy within local groups then I am sure Walthamstow planning meetings would be bigger than at present.
Dave Landau speculates about whether or not Karl Marx would or wouldnt have joined the Third International in 1919. On balance he concludes that he probably would have. But he seems pretty certain that today a Methuselah Marx would not be advocating building of a Communist Party, a Marxist party. Rather he would throw in his lot with projects like the old Socialist Alliance, Respect and the Campaign for a New Workers Party.
Seemingly in justification comrade Landau twice quotes a famous sentence from the Communist manifesto: The communist do not form a separate party opposed to other working class parties.
Of course, we should not treat this or any other text as dogma, a timeless commandment. Nevertheless, I do think that the Communist manifesto retains much of its freshness and validity. It correctly outlines the approach we communist need to adopt today.
Firstly, communists do form a separate party. An obvious statement of fact. The Communist manifesto was the programme of the Communist Party of Germany. Even after the Communist League was formally dissolved, the communists remained grouped together as a body of co-thinkers. In the 1850s and 60s Marx and Engels constantly referred to their party.
What of the First International? This mass body was certainly heavily influenced by Marxism. Its effective ideological leader was Marx himself. However, it came into being not according to some Marxist plan to build a half-way house. A devilish attempt to hoodwink medium developed workers into joining the same party as revolutionary communists.
The First International was the product of real mass forces, not least the British trade unions. Marx and his comrades intervened in what was. Just as we should intervene in the Labour Party and Respect.
The separate party of communists was not opposed to the First International. The comrades tirelessly built it organisationally and equipped it theoretically. Let us not forget that the First International programmatically stood for the complete emancipation of the working class. This, it explicitly stated, was to be an act of self-emancipation - not bureaucratic reform delivered by a benign state. No fudge here.
Comrade Landau mentions the Second International in passing. But he seems to forget that the bulk of affiliated parties were built around Marxist theory and programmes (whatever their shortcomings). That includes the German SDP and the Russian RSDLP.
Therefore in fighting for the Third International and Communist Party national sections, Lenin did not break from Marxs dictum of not forming a separate party.
There was no such dictum. Comrade Landau mauls the Communist manifesto for his own half-way house purposes.
I thought your latest piece on Respect was a very interesting article.
I have heard various versions of these events but there are a few new bits in here that interested me.
I note that in Brett Locks deeply dishonest piece about the March for Freedom of Expression, there is no mention of the fact that a prominent sponsor, right from the very beginning, was the Freedom Association (Lies, smears and distortions, March 30).
Lock hides behind the tiny fig-leaf of the British National Partys name not being on the sponsors list. But the Freedom Association (racist, pro-apartheid, pro-Pinochet, anti-immigrant union-busters who were involved in conspiracies to overthrow the 1974-79 Wilson government and replace it with a dictatorship headed by Mountbatten) were involved in this event far earlier than Outrage.
If the Freedom Association is bourgeois liberal, then Pinochet must have been a real liberal. But that is where islamophobia leads - blocs with the far right in defence of freedom. Not my idea of freedom!
This was a scab demonstration organised by the worst enemies of workers and immigrants, and those who participated in it are simply enemies of real freedom, or their pathetic dupes.
I note that even the Alliance for Workers Liberty could not stomach this bloc with racist union-busters. But it appears that the CPGB has gone one worse in giving scabby muslim-baiter Brett Lock an uncritical platform to lie about the real pink-brown alliances he was involved in on this march. Shameful!
No doubt it was in anticipation of April Fools day that you decided to accord more space to Peter Tatchell and Outrages free-speech love-in with the far-Right than to the largest one day strike since 1926.
Brett Lock of Outrage is free and easy with accusations of lies, when tilting at the Socialist Action windmill. He would do well to observe that there is little point in lecturing others about your own sins. Notwithstanding his claim that the BNP boycotted the rally over free speech, the BNPs own site, and its Civil Liberty front, are quite clear. They supported the rally and their members attended. One of the bourgeois liberals that Lock makes mention of, Johann Hari, is quite open about the fact that he marched with fascists.
Peter Tatchell couldnt be more wrong. Free speech isnt a universal human right. It is something that has had to be fought for, by workers, radicals, peasants and others engaged in struggle. Millions have and are dying in the cause of such basic freedoms, as free-market capitalism murders and destroys all in its path, from Iraq to Colombia.
Yet who did Outrage and Tatchell march with? The Freedom Association and Libertarian Alliance, with the support of UKIP and other far-right fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists (D Cameron!).
In its former guise as the National Association for Freedom, the FA launched and fronted the attack by the state and allied forces against the Grunwick strikers and trade unionists in the 1970s. Of this they are quite proud. Quite what freedoms does Peter Tatchell think NAFF and the metropolitan police were protecting as we were battoned and attacked for defending the right of workers to belong to trade unions? The idea that far-right Tories, no matter how libertarian they are, are seriously interested in freedom of speech is too absurd for words and just shows the perils of getting stuck in one-issue campaigns too long.
The idiocy of Lock, Tatchell et al is compounded only by their political ignorance. There is a major attack taking place on the right to free expression, ie the right to hold, share and disseminate opinions that differ from Fox TV and the bourgeois media. Maybe Tatchell and Lock are unaware of the attacks on Al Jazeera, the journey of Colin Powell to plead with its owner, the Sheikh of Quatar to shut it down or indeed Bushs plans to bomb it (again!)?
The real threat to free speech in this country does not come from a handful of the oppressed who look to religion rather than class, it comes from the privatisation of public space and the strong state that is getting stronger as the right to demonstrate within one mile of parliament has all but been abolished.
When activists in Brighton want to leaflet the job centre or the main town shopping area, they are told by the security guards that this is private land. That is the real threat to free speech, but it is not one that Brett Locks new-found friends on the far right are likely to want to take up.
And the victory of protestors against the banning injunctions of the arms company EDO-MBM? Probably not one that UKIP, FA and LA will be keen to applaud, given that the free market also includes the freedom of British capitalism to supply arms to the most repressive regimes in the world.
I obtained a copy of your paper at the December 3 demonstration against climate change. As a member of the Green Party I can tell you that at no time did my party have a policy of depopulating Britain (A world to save! A world to win!, December 1 2005). This is what I would expect from the Daily Mail.
However, may I compliment you on the article on Venezuela in the same issue (Working class project for Spanish America). I kept your paper and have just copied the piece for a friend. I might take out a subscription, as the other articles in the issue made me think.
In answer to Valerie Lawson Lasts question, Am I a hopelessly sentimental pacifist and idealist?, I would have to answer yes, although I would replace sentimental with naive.
Capital dominates through coercion. Within an industrial context, we need look no further than the 1984 miners strike to see the physical manifestation of this power; the Iraq war is merely the same process but on an international, imperialist scale. But to define coercion in merely physical terms is to underestimate the extent to which capitalist ideology and oppression is reproduced in symbolic form via the mass media, the education system, and culture; to paraphrase Carl von Clausewitz, violence is merely the continuation of oppressive policies by directly physical means.
Given these circumstances, why does Valerie think that capitalists would willingly relinquish their power and wealth? The CPGB Draft Programmes call for military preparedness is a recognition that this would be, to say the least, unlikely, and that in this event workers need to be prepared to reinforce political claims with more direct means.
Pacifism, like religion, is a bourgeois ideology that functions to disarm the proletariat. Such appeals to non-violence only assist the bourgeoisie in maintaining its monopoly on the use of force. So while Valeries interest in the CPGB is commendable, she should realise that the interests of capitalists and workers do not coincide. As Marx stated: Between genuinely opposing interests, there can be no compromise.
Boom and bust
The housing boom is soon to go bust and the way it will end will affect everyone.
The house price boom is a classic bubble. You know that when investors believe there is no place else to go. Like any speculation, the housing bubble feeds on itself. Rising prices encourage new buyers to rush in before they go even higher. And higher prices allow homeowners to use their accumulated equity to buy costlier homes.
What will burst the bubble? Watch out for a collapse in the dollar, caused by the giant US trade deficit, which will lead to a rise in interest rates in the US, followed by the rest of the world. As housing demand dries up, prices will fall and the whole mechanism will work in reverse. Those with big mortgages will see their equity wiped out, forcing them to sell, pushing prices still lower. As already-rising delinquency rates go higher, lenders will withdraw.
Boom and bust
Boom and bust
It was interesting to read the letter from ex-police officer David Neale criticising the CPGBs demand for unrestricted working class access to alcohol (and all recreational drugs) and [a fight against] those restrictive policing intrusions.
He relates his experiences on two sink estates in Coventry; but makes the mistake of confusing cause with effect. Alcoholics and other drug users do not create sink estates . It is the conditions in such communities that both cause those unfortunate enough to reside in them to turn to drugs and attract other addicts to these areas.
The illegal status of (some) drugs simply exacerbates the problems so vividly described by David, in that it creates illegal markets, forces up prices, criminalises those who use (some) drugs creating a cycle of despair and deprivation that is in fact the subject of Davids letter.
David has outlined the effect of deprivation - drug and alcohol abuse, leading to abused and neglected children, wives and girlfriends with severe injuries at the hands (and worse) of their partners the appalling effects of drugs of various kinds, and the descent into true horror for not only the users, but the victims of crimes committed against them to provide the wherewithal to purchase more drugs.
The cause is the deprivation brought about by a capitalist system that is uncaring and unplanned.
Terry Liddles latest contributions on the subject of the use and abuse (he still fails to distinguish between the two) of the drug alcohol are equally misguided in that he adopts an ultra-authoritarian approach towards addressing the effects of alcohol abuse. He wants abusers to be hosed down with ice-cold water and required to undertake detox and rehabilitation (to be funded by higher taxes on alcohol) or face imprisonment (Letters, March 2). Perhaps Terry would adopt a Tony Blair approach and have these people marched to the cash point so that they can help fund their detoxification!
Presumably, in order the strength his case, Terry then quotes Keir Hardy: each member of the party will consider whether his duty to the movement does not demand that he too shall give up his personal indulgence. This should surely be read as a recommendation for party activists, not a suggestion for party policy or legislation - before or after the revolution. Does anyone really think that Keir Hardy would have supported he kind of oppressive legislation that Terry advocates?
Terry then displays a touching confidence in the power of advertising and government information channels under capitalism, informing us that there should be more info regarding the dangers of alcohol given in schools. For how many of Terrys comrades premature deaths was tobacco (the most lethal of all recreational drugs) a major factor? Tobacco products have carried health warnings for thirty five years, yet millions of people - many well under thirty five - still smoke.
We must also remember that there are statutory constraints on advertising - even under capitalism - and these would not allow health warnings on alcohol products to claim drink this and youll end up with a sour gut and a blinding headache at the very least because it is simply not true that moderate use of alcohol will have any such effect (Letters, March 23).
In the same issue of the Weekly Worker, Don Franks reminds us that it is possible for those indulging to get the odd nice wee glow from alcohol and that the stuff itself is a good servant and a bad master. Don Franks concludes: If those of us who choose to cant enjoy a few beers after the revolution it will not have been worth killing all those capitalists.
Come on, Terry and all revolutionaries - let us all be allowed to make up our own minds about the things we do and achieve support when things go wrong, not persecution by the state - bourgeois or proletarian!
I have been half following the discussion on the internet between different members of Fluff Freemens even fluffier Socialist Alliance. Various bourgeois definitions of republicanism have been advanced but not the best known of all; namely, government by the people for the people. Perhaps because some of the SA comrades are reluctant to see democracy and republicanism as so intimately intertwined.
But the real problem is that most of them see republicanism as being a more or less effective way of improving the capitalist state in non-revolutionary times and no more. The correct approach is to fight to make democracy the central organising principle of our own institutions. If this were true, the working class would see bourgeois democracy as limited and partial, and it would be a natural step to push it to its limits and beyond.
Secondly, forcing democracy on the ruling class weakens and emasculates it; it is in fact an act of war not a programme for getting better government out of the capitalist class, though from our point of view it might achieve this to some extent.
The struggle for democracy is inevitably revolutionary and can only be carried though as a conscious act of the working class; it is not a half-way house to keep us occupied during non-revolutionary periods.
Tony Greensteins comment that campaigning to defend council housing is more important than republicanism because only the former interests the working class exemplifies the problem.
Capitalism organises economically in one place and politics in another. You attack one face and the other remains unscathed. We are trying to make the working class into a ruling class not just a class that demands minimum standards from their rulers. I agree that a working class programme must defend the rights of minority sections. So we start from a class programme designed to meet the long term interests of the whole class, which in turn requires a party to direct coherent agitation which leads to propaganda and back to organisation.
The answer is not only to prioritise democracy, but to link it to other battlefronts. Council housing is not in the interests of the working class long term. In the here and now it can also be a relatively cheap way of stabling poorly paid wage slaves. In defending the immediate needs of tenants we need to seek opportunities to raise the question of what kind of housing workers really need and what we must do to get it.
Finally, the internet can be a warm and cosy place to discuss differences and to clarify your thinking before going public. But the main value of debate is public not private clarification. Which raises the necessity of a paper or other suitable medium that can carry the debates. The only option is the Weekly Worker in this regard; I urge SA comrades to actively support and contribute to it.
It was good to see a serious review of The proposition, which is a great film, but there are two issues I would like to raise (Sun, sodomy and the lash, March 30).
First, I think it is a mistake to describe it as a debased piece; it is the history of colonialism that is debased, not the film.
Second, the review doesnt say enough about the aborigines. It is worth staying at the end of the film for the parade of brutal images of native peoples being degraded and killed that accompanies the end titles. These give a powerful sense that the violent expropriation of the land from the existing inhabitants is a vital background to the brutality the film depicts.
Quite clearly the Weekly Workers last front page was a mistake. A small one, but nonetheless one that should never have happened. The slogan pensions strike: journey to nowhere was the wrong message at the wrong time. Intended to attack the trade union bureaucracy, it could be interpreted as being an attack on the pensions strike itself.
Hence it did not work as agitation, and in terms of propaganda it could be seen as being defeatist. The fact that a million workers came out on strike on March 28 in defence of what are historic gains is something we wholeheartedly support. It is cause for celebration.
Communists are quite right to warn of the dangers of betrayal by Brendan Barber and Dave Prentis. It is our duty to criticise the shortcomings in the strategy being pursued by the left. Simultaneously, however, we should be highlighting what is positive, what can be built upon. Certainly we should not be standing aloof from a mass protest movement.
The Provisional Central Committee wishes to underline that it retains full confidence in comrade Peter Manson. He is hard working and dedicated. Nonetheless, ultimate responsibility for the mistake lies with him as Weekly Worker editor.
Other members of the PCC carry their share of responsibility though. The slogan should have been changed before the Weekly Worker went to print. Failing that, the whole thing should have been pulped. Better to incur extra costs and come out late than carry a wrong political message on our front page.
No one can guarantee that the CPGB will never make another mistake. Being human we are fallible.
What we can say, though, is that when another mistake is made, as surely it will, once again it will be swiftly corrected and, most importantly, done so in full public view.
Myself and many others were outraged at last weeks Weekly Worker front cover, pensions strike, journey to nowhere. What an insult to the one-and-a-half million strikers who took part in the biggest walk-out since the 1926 General Strike. Sadly, I thought the front cover and the back-page article, Show of union militancy by Alan Stevens, poured cold water on the magnificent pension strike.
Stevens article, while correctly drawing the conclusion that a revolutionary communist party is needed right now, spends far to much time on lambasting the union tops and most of the left for being so ineffectual and part of the problem. All those on the left who I know worked bloody hard to get everyone out on the day.
Stevens starts off with the aim of a sober assessment of weaknesses and strengths. But he fails to highlight the strengths of the pensions strike. For example, in the build-up to the strike thousands of new members were recruited. Five hundred joined Unison in Huddersfield and, nationally, hundreds of new reps came forward. In Glasgow, 10,000 people attended a demonstration, effectively shutting down the city for the day through a huge display of solidarity (Socialist Worker April 1). For many thousands it was their first time striking.
Of course, a one-day strike is not enough. Workers know this. A worker at the Manor Place depot in Southwark, South London, said that strikers should stay out unofficially until they have won. Another said: We were told it was going to be two days this time and people were disappointed that it was only one day (The Socialist March 30). While few would disagree that the pension strike needs to be escalated, it is also important to highlight some of the successes of March 28.
Having had a moan, I would like to comment on the fantastic open, frank discussion that took place at CPGBs London Forum on the topic. I was truly amazed to hear its leadership speak so openly about the political mistake that had been committed in the Weekly Worker over the inappropriate headline. I could hardly believe my ears when leading comrade John Bridge said that he had made a mistake in not pulping the issue. I thought back to my days in the SWP and could not think of a situation where leadership in a public forum took responsibility for a political mistake.
This is the strength of the CPGB. It has proudly built up a culture where an open, honest appraisal of events is made in front of the class. As it dares to seek out and put into print the nuances of leaders in other political groups, it does not shy away when the spotlight needs to be put on its own leaders.