Thank fuck

Respect local election material has starting dropping through my letter box, so I was wondering if any of your other readers have had the same reaction as me.

Respect in Newham has so far not even teased the local electorate with the word ‘socialism’ - even an explicitly non-working class variety that the ‘S’ in its wretched composite name is meant to stand for. Not a mention of it in its material.

So, no socialism then …

And my gut reaction is - thank fuck for that. In the aftermath of the death camp debacle of the USSR and the lunatic theocracy that is today’s North Korea, socialism has enough of a bad name to live down. Respect and the Socialist Workers Party are doing all socialists a favour. Surely we owe them a vote of thanks - even if that’s the only vote we do owe them - for refraining from further discrediting the socialist project by even associating it by implication with their national chauvinist, reformist-lite, sub-populist Respect bilge.

My, I hope one of them canvasses me …

Thank fuck
Thank fuck

End of the line?

One almost wants to applaud the CPGB for printing criticism of itself in its paper, but this should be standard on the left. Other factions should take note.

Dave Isaacson’s article on the National Union of Students highlights the CPGB’s increasingly absurd position  of ‘critical support’ for Respect (‘Political strategy needed’, March 23). The comrade has much praise for Education Not for Sale’s policy, but his party’s line prevents him from coming out in support of it. Perhaps it is time the CPGB’s line changed.

End of the line?

Mock Tudor?

I would like to comment on Phil Kent’s remarks on council housing.

Phil states that: “Council housing is not in the interests of the working class long term.” He goes on to raise the question of what kind of housing workers really need and what we must do to get it.

Does this mean that the CPGB, just like the Independent Working Class Association, supports the Thatcherite policy of giving council tenants the so-called ‘right to buy’ their council house? Further, does it mean that council houses should be replaced by semi-detached mock-Tudor houses in middle class suburban settings?

In my view, rather than relying on the vagaries of the free market, communists should support a programme of council house building. At a time of the impending collapse of the private housing market, it would be madness to support council tenants’ ‘right to buy’.

Mock Tudor?
Mock Tudor?

Utopian view

I thought Dr Gordon Downie was too dismissive in reply to Valerie Lawson Last’s letter in support of communism and pacifism.

It is just trite to dismiss pacifism as a ‘bourgeois ideology’. And calling people who may be new to communist ideas ‘naive’ is likely to annoy them rather than engage them in discussion.

It is a widespread view of many left workers (and others) that it is wrong to kill and that non-violence is an option that can bring change. This view reflects well on them and their basic humanity.

I however think (sadly) that it is a utopian view. Gordon is correct in the criticisms that he makes, if not the tone in which he makes them. I don’t need to repeat these points other than to say that I don’t think the organised gang of criminals (the capitalists) will return stolen property (their wealth) if we just ask them politely.

If we did get our act together and start demanding forcibly, I would ask Valerie what her own view on violence would be if the police or army started shooting demonstrators in her town; if members of her own family were locked up for years for protesting; if the resistance movement asked to use her flat to spy on a passing patrol; and if she knew when the police/army would be attacked - would she inform, or collude in their death?

Some may say that this wouldn’t happen in Britain. I disagree. The Guardian has reported on how the British state murdered communists in Germany after World War II (April 3). And I do mean ‘murdered’. The only reason that the state hasn’t been more vicious in (mainland) Britain is that it hasn’t needed to be because of weak left opposition.

Utopian view
Utopian view


Sofie Buckland speaks unkindly of my recent attempt to get elected as Sheffield Student Union president; “the CPGB’s approach seems to be that of a purely propagandist sect. This was clear in the recent student union elections at Sheffield University, where rather than getting involved in or even engaging with broader leftwing campaigns for the SU executive, your comrade Carey Davies stood on an abstractly revolutionary manifesto and won 78 votes out of nearly 5,000.”

“My point here” she goes on, “is not that it is always wrong for communists to stand their own, explicitly revolutionary candidates against the reformist alternative”.

Firstly, it is important to clarify that in our specific circumstances we were not standing against ‘reformists’. Actually, given the other candidates on offer, a proper ‘reformist’ might have been a step forward. ‘Potato Pete’, a rival presidential candidate, ran a popular campaign which consisted of him holding two potatoes aloft on sticks. Next year’s side-splittingly named education officer, ‘Top Mark’, drew a hopscotch grid on the concourse and hopped back and forth while dressed as a schoolboy. One candidate wore a superman outfit.

Not surprisingly, given this sort of clowning, no candidate apart from ours put forward a platform that made the basic point that the quality of students’ lives and education are linked to what is happening in the rest of society. Our campaign was designed to do this. We put forward a general platform that highlighted what young people as a whole needed to fight for in order to win greater democratic control of their lives (including the touchy subject of the repressive age of consent laws, by the way).

In my speeches at hustings meetings etc, I constantly stressed that if students were to reverse the damage done to higher education they had to fight on a broader front. They had to understand that students - and wider society - would be in a healthier state had the working class not been on the back foot for the last 20 years, if the miners’ Great Strike had not been defeated and the advantage then pressed home against our class by the establishment.

Given the current weakness of the working class, it is little wonder that top up fees are being introduced, that rights to free education won through previous struggles are being rolled back.

Of course, in this respect our attempts were ‘propagandist’. It was a hard message and it didn’t win us easy votes. But, comrade Buckland, it is true, it needed to be said and is something that the left must not simply mouth platitudinously in its private meetings, but actually incorporate into its operative programme of what needs to be done in student politics.

We certainly don’t judge the success of the campaign based on how many votes we get. (And anyway, 78 ain’t too bad for a first outing in a university dominated by christian and conservative groups. Dave White and Luke Graham, two prominent Tories, actually won the positions of president and finance officer respectively with just over 1,000 votes out of nearly 5,000).

The CPGB students who initiated and ran this campaign made no secret of the fact that we are new to this kind of thing. However, we are not guilty of Sofie’s next, rather unsubstantiated accusation: “In both the case of Sheffield University and your decision to vote for Respect above the Education Not for Sale campaign at the National Union of Students conference, the primary concern seems to have been recruitment to the CPGB rather than anything else.”

Quite where she gets this idea from is unclear. She certainly doesn’t provide any evidence. Of course, we are not against recruiting to our organisation, but our perspectives are a tad wider that that. Yet, oddly, having told us it not always wrong for communists to stand their “own, explicitly revolutionary candidates”, she suggests that “this was exactly what the AWL did when it persuaded ENS to stand Daniel Randall for NUS president against Pav Akhtar.”

The revolutionary nature of comrade Randall’s platform is highly debatable, of  course, but Sofie tells us that the key question to determine whether to contest is what the “circumstances” are and “how you do it; whether it contributes to building up the forces of the left or is merely a sectarian stunt”.

There is no explanation of why our decision to stand in Sheffield counts as a “sectarian” recruitment stunt while Comrade Randall’s attempt to beat Pav Akhtar was not.


Wild distortions

Last month’s Freedom of Expression (FER) rally in London has been wildly misrepresented by the sectarian left. Typical of these distortions are the recent letters by Ian Donovan and Tony Greenstein.

Let’s get a few facts straight. The FER was called by liberal bloggers, not by the British National Party, the Freedom Association or the Libertarian Alliance. True, the rally organisers were not socialists. So what? If we only work with other socialists the left will remain pure, but small, ineffective and powerless. It is time the left reached out to a wider audience, instead of just speaking to, or, more often, quarrelling with, itself.

Here is the statement of principle agreed by the FER organisers, supporters and speakers:

“The strength and survival of free society and the advance of human knowledge depend on the free exchange of ideas. All ideas are capable of giving offence, and some of the most powerful ideas in human history, such as those of Galileo and Darwin, have given profound religious offence in their time.

“The free exchange of ideas depends on freedom of expression, and this includes the right to criticise and mock. We assert and uphold the right of freedom of expression and call on our elected representatives to do the same. We abhor the fact that people throughout the world live under mortal threat simply for expressing ideas and we call on our elected representatives to protect them from attack and not to give comfort to the forces of intolerance that besiege them.”

What socialist can disagree with this statement? None, I hope. If non-socialists join a rally to support this statement, I see that as progress.

I don’t agree with the Libertarian Alliance and the Freedom Association. But they are not “racists” and “fascists”, similar to the BNP, as some of the left claim. While the FA promoted vicious far right policies 30 years ago, it doesn’t today.

My involvement with the FER was based on supporting the statement of principle. I see no reason to abandon a good cause just because some unsavoury rightwingers have jumped on the free speech bandwagon.

Nor will I accept the McCarthyite smear of guilt by association. Just because some rightwingers backed the FER does not mean that my support for the FER makes me a rightwinger. This is the equivalent of claiming that because the FA opposes ID cards everyone who opposes ID cards must support the FA. Are we supposed to dump our opposition to ID cards just because the FA is campaigning against them?

Some leftwingers say the rally was supported by the right and this means it cannot be supported by the left. Well, if they feel that way, why didn’t they organise their own demo in support of free speech?

Not content with doing nothing to defend the right to free expression, the sectarian left have tried to portray those who supported the FER as crypto-fascists and neo-Nazi sympathisers. 

Judging from their hysterical denunciations, you would think that a mini-Nuremberg rally took place in Trafalgar Square, teeming with supporters of the BNP promoting racist and anti-muslim hatred.

Those attending the rally have been variously condemned by some of the left as “supporting”, “colluding with” or “endorsing” the BNP.

This is nonsense. There was no BNP profile at the FER. Speaker after speaker condemned the BNP and expressed solidarity with the muslim community. I saw no union jack flags, and no leaflets or placards attacking muslims or promoting fascist ideas. The BNP did not gain from this rally. They were isolated and rejected by it.

Two muslim speakers addressed the FER: Sayyida Rend Shakir al-Hadithi and Ali, a muslim Iraqi.

Other speakers included the black soul singer and civil rights activist, Labi Siffre, and refugees from islamist states, such as the Iranian feminist and communist, Maryam Namazie.

Muslims were among the crowd. They supported free speech too. Many muslims recognise that freedom of expression is what guarantees the right of religious minorities to practice their faith. It protects minor faiths from being victimised by major faiths, and safeguards the rights of believers within faiths who dissent from the orthodoxy.

With a couple of honourable exceptions, this reality was never acknowledged by most leftwing critics. Their misrepresentations parallel New Labour’s spin and deception.

Wild distortions
Wild distortions

Little scope

I agree entirely with Nick Rogers’s article on the new workers’ party question.

It does seem very strange that people claiming to be Marxists voted against resolutions calling for a Marxist party at the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party conference. It could be that they assume that any workers’ party must automatically and spontaneously be reformist with a trade union consciousness, following a crude line from Lenin’s What is to be done? Or it could be that they are reformists who see a Marxist party rather like the Fabians saw socialism as the ultimate goal, uplifting for Sunday discussions but not worth fighting for in the reality of the here and now.

There is one point I would like to add to Nick’s argument. It is one that I planned to make at the conference but for some reason I wasn’t chosen in the discussion. The point is that there is very little scope left for national governments to make reforms. The IMF and World Bank have strict rules when lending money to governments, and they include cuts in government expenditure and privatisation of state property.

Globalisation too makes it difficult for states to control what is happening economically within their borders. At one time the Socialist Party had the slogan ‘nationalise the top 200 monopolies’. They would be hard pressed today to find 200 British-owned monopolies. The slogan would have to be ‘internationalise the top 200 monopolies’. For example, just after World War II there was a demand to nationalise the ‘big-six’ British car firms. Today, there are no British car firms and analysts talk about the emergence of the ‘big-six’ international car firms.

So the room for progressive reform is very limited within any one nation state - that is my point. In these circumstances, for the Socialist Party to be happy with a left reformist or centrist party when they themselves claim to be Marxists seems even more strange. In 2006, a new workers’ party needs to be Marxist, internationalist and democratic. I think we should form a platform of those who are for a Marxist party.

Little scope
Little scope

Quid pro quo

Unlike some sections of the far left, we believe in defending muslims against prejudice and discrimination, while also challenging the fundamentalists who persecute their fellow muslims.

The target of our criticism is not muslim people, but islamist right wingers who endorse a reactionary, fundamentalist interpretation of islam that is inconsistent with progressive values.

We say this as people who are gay and left. Two of us are muslims. We support the victims of fundamentalist abuse, threats and violence - women, gay and liberal muslims. We oppose rightwing islamists who reject universal human rights.

These reactionary islamists include the muslim cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who endorses the execution of gays and unchaste women; and Sir Iqbal Sacranie, leader of the Muslim Council of Britain, who has actively campaigned against gay equality and said execution was too good a punishment for the author Salman Rushdie.

For exposing islamist bigots and defending the muslim victims of fundamentalism, we are denounced and smeared as ‘islamophobic’ by sections of the far left. Their pro-islamist capitulation betrays every leftwing, humanitarian value. Most damningly of all, it betrays the muslim victims of fundamentalism.

A classic example of the pro-islamist left’s lack of honesty, integrity and principle was an article by Kirsten Hearn in the leftwing Labour weekly, Tribune (March 31). Her attack is symptomatic of the rot that is now standard for far left groups such as Socialist Action, Respect and the Socialist Workers Party. In her long diatribe against OutRage, Hearn rants that Peter Tatchell is trying “to portray the muslim and LGBT communities as polarised from each other”.

What a joke. It is not Tatchell who is suggesting gays and muslims are polar opposites. Who said, just shortly before the Unite Against Fascism conference, that gays were immoral, socially destructive spreaders of disease? It was Iqbal Sacranie.

In contrast to Sacranie’s bigotry and divisiveness, it was Peter Tatchell who said: “Both the muslim and gay communities suffer prejudice and discrimination. We should stand together to fight islamophobia and homophobia.” Where is the equivalent statement of mutual solidarity from Sacranie?

The IslamophobiaWatch (IW) website blames the press for blowing Sacranie’s comments out of proportion, but doesn’t have a single bad word to say about him. Sacranie can abuse gays as much as he likes, but let anyone object and it is because they are ‘islamophobic’. If Sacranie really wants to unite with gays against fascism, he has a funny way of showing it.

IW obfuscates things further with the lie that Sacranie’s views are based on his religious faith. Pardon? Where in any scripture does it state that “gays spread diseases”? It doesn’t. Indeed, Sacranie was quoting from a rightwing anti-gay (pseudo) medical journal - not the Koran - to support his bigoted claims. And if Sacranie’s homophobia is religiously inspired, so what? That does not make it any the less reprehensible.

Hearn repeats the bald-faced lie that OutRage targets islam but not other religions. Nonsense. What is OutRage most famous for? That’s right, storming Canterbury Cathedral during archbishop Carey’s Easter service to protest against his support for anti-gay laws. And who picketed the pope’s wake, reminding the world about his homophobia and the Aids catastrophe his christian fundamentalist dogma has helped cause? OutRage. And, at the risk of boring you, who disrupted a live television broadcast of the general synod to condemn the Anglican communion’s appeasement of rightwing evangelicals? That was OutRage too.

Here’s another question. Why is it that gays are always asked to sacrifice their dignity in order to form alliances? And why are those such as Kirsten Hearn always ready to fall down on their knees and do so?

If a rightwing Zionist group commented that muslims were destroying the fabric of society and spreading diseases, I can’t see Hearn arguing to line up with them to fight the British National Party. She would not argue that because the BNP targets both Jews and muslims, muslims should ignore this insult and provocation in the name of unity against the BNP. And I cannot see IW, Respect or the Socialist Workers Party arguing this either.

Hearn then resorts to hyperbole. She claims: “To suggest we jettison the muslim community from the anti-fascist movement at a time when the fascists are advancing by attacking muslims is obscene.”

Who said that? Neither Tatchell nor OutRage have ever proposed excluding the muslim community from the fight against fascism. We objected to one particular bigot from the Muslim Council of Britain. How can there be unity against the BNP with a man whose views on gay people echo its homophobic hatred?

We urged that Sacranie be replaced at the UAF conference by a liberal, progressive muslim speaker - not that the muslim community be excluded from the anti-fascist movement. Hearn’s flagrant misrepresentation and dishonesty shows the depth to which the pro-islamist left and its hangers-on will stoop.

Quid pro quo
Quid pro quo

Spare us

Regular readers will be familiar with Terry Liddle and his profoundly anti-human ideas on alcohol and drug use. Terry’s idea of socialism is one in which the population is completely prohibited from  the use of any kind of mind-altering substances, an image humorously (and completely inaccurately) conjured when he argues that once the working class has triumphed over capitalism and won “righteous” socialism, we can all look forward to celebrating “in the traditional working class way with a nice cup of tea, or, more healthily, with a glass of organic fruit juice”. If this is the sort of party Terry has in mind for the dawn of a new epoch of human freedom, I dread to think how he celebrates more humdrum events like birthdays. Tediously, I should think.

Terry’s approach is miserly at best and completely antithetical to the idea of socialism at worst. It is also utterly despotic - “Sadly, there are some who do not act like adults. They behave like spoiled kids and in so doing endanger the well-being of others. An ounce of persuasion is better than a pound of compulsion. But, where this fails, coercion is needed” - and has more in common with ‘reformation of manners’ type christianity than it does socialism, a fact confirmed by the fact that he cites lay preacher for the Evangelical Union Church and fellow miserable bastard Keir Hardie in arguing for temperance (Letters, March 16). His argument is so pathetic and joyless it barely merits a response, but I was prompted to write in following an article in The Times this week, which I will come to below.

In one sense Terry is right when he argues that socialism, as a fundamentally more sociable and human way of life, fosters an approach to drugs in both individuals and society which is more rational. Capitalism as a system is to blame for the damage caused by alcohol because it alienates, atomises and pushes people towards self-destructive behaviour as a kind of refuge from the tedium and meaninglessness of their lives.

This argument contains a grain of truth, of course. Capitalism forces people into recreational habits that can be self-destructive, and nobody denies that prolonged alcohol abuse can pose risks to health.

However, Terry goes catastrophically wrong when he maintains that alcohol should therefore be completely outlawed. This is a case of throwing the baby out with the beer. If we are to accept that capitalist society is to blame for people’s unhealthy habits of drug consumption, the logical solution is not to condemn drugs themselves. In my opinion, they will be as much a feature of socialist society as they are capitalist society. The difference is that under socialism they will be socialised, that is, they will be incorporated into people’s non-alienated recreation time.

Paradoxically, alcohol itself is the best example of this working successfully with a drug. If alcohol was prohibited tomorrow it would become a hundred times more hazardous. Its production and distribution would be taken out of the hands of businesses that are monitored for quality control and safety and placed in the hands of gangsters, smugglers and cartels whose primary concern would be to minimise costs and handle as little of the illegal substance as possible.

Hence a pint of relatively harmless Carlsberg is replaced by a bottle of something which is probably noxious brown, contains rat poison and is so strong it could turn you blind. It is also consumed in areas which are away from prying police eyes - ie, dark corners in remote or deprived areas. The people who would most probably fall foul of the resulting crime - which would sky-rocket (and become organised) - the police harassment and the damage to health would be the working class.

Sound familiar? Yes - this is the current pattern we see with illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine.

Alcohol, opiates, amphetamines - these are simply chemicals, the use of which we can trace to the time of the ancients and considerably before, as this article in The Times shows:  “Sherlock Holmes did it. De Quincey did it. But then so did Herodotus and Cato. The Romans did it. Greeks did it. Even classically educated geeks did it” (April 10).

The harm they are capable of inflicting depends entirely on how they are handled; it is illegality - along with the nature of capitalism itself - that causes them to be dangerous substances. It may well be that no drug can ever be made 100% safe. Socialism, however, will see the potential harm that drugs can do minimised by the fact that they are used openly and sociably. Hopefully, we can all be spared Terry’s organic fruit juice.

Spare us

Poison swill

Jim Dymond not only misspells Keir Hardie’s name, he also misunderstands his views on the drink question.

In her biography of Hardie, Caroline Been states that Hardie favoured state action to ban the sale of drink. When he was still a Liberal, she wrote, he wept tears of joy when Gladstone’s government adopted the policy of local option - allowing people to vote on whether or not the sale of drink was allowed in their communities. The Labour Party adopted this policy in 1907. But like so many Labour policies, Labour governments have never implemented it.

It is true that people still smoke despite the health warnings on cigarette packets. But fewer people smoke now than did in my youth in the 1960s, and many who still do would like to give it up. It is now generally accepted that tobacco is unhealthy. Government information campaigns have played a part in this. The same could be done for alcohol.

A socialist society would still bear the birthmarks of the bourgeois society from which it emerged. Even a workers’ state, until the process of its self-abolition is complete, would be an authoritarian body. In the final analysis it would be bodies of armed workers imposing their will. The will of the proletariat should be imposed on the bourgeoisie, including those who have profited from the manufacture and sale of drink.

They should not be killed, except where there is no other choice, or fined, but set to hard labour repairing some of the damage they have done. In so doing they may become human; just as a society freed from the poisonous swill sold by profit-hungry capitalists will become both human and humanistic.

Poison swill
Poison swill