Rotten answers

The home page of www.rottenelements.org.uk asks you a question: art and revolutionary politics - married, single or divorced?

We would like people to send in answers. These could take the form of a critique, a poem, a play, a story, photoshopped pictures, a rant, a film, sound paintings. This is an open project and is not a front for a political organisation (although there is no problem with political organisations or their members being involved). It is not the intention to develop a backslapping clique. This is an open space - currently at the far corner of your retina - that needs developing. Anything posted is fair game for open critique.

The rotten elements will go on occasional print excursions, although the website will be the main vehicle. You too could be a driver. Write to vorzedia@yahoo.co.uk with your contributions and any comments.

Rotten answers

True equality

Louise Whittle seems to wear her usual blinkers when her favourite topic (namely feminism) comes under discussion.

I am not a member of the Scottish Socialist Party and only know about their internal affairs from what has been published in the Weekly Worker. However, I was surprised that Louise deems it strange that Tommy Sheridan “zooms in on gender”. Seeing as one of the female comrades he has attacked has apparently accused him of being involved in sex trafficking (not a light charge) and other allegations have been made regarding his sex life (the paying of sex workers and so on) it seems to me quite understandable that he might express some ire in this regard. The feminist slogan, ‘The personal is political’, can sometimes result in a fixation with people’s personal lives.

Also how were his remarks “unhelpful”? Are people (men or women) supposed not to express any opinion on feminism that may not be 100% praiseworthy lest it feed a semi-mythical ‘backlash’? Such an attitude reeks of Stalinism - but the feminist movement has long been noted for such tactics: the silencing of critical thought and of any questioning of shibboleths.

Louise is also mystified by Peter Manson’s comparison of feminism with petty bourgeois nationalism (Weekly Worker June 1). This seems to me a fairly rational comparison - at least when it comes to liberal and radical feminism. I should perhaps refer her to Andrea Dworkin’s Scapegoat - where the writer directly draws parallels between feminism and Zionism. I suspect Dworkin’s brand of feminism is as unhelpful to women as Zionism was for the Jewish people.

These ideologies have a predominately middle class base and fixate on identity in the form of gender or nation to the neglect of class. At best, they can be progressive to a certain degree in challenging oppression, but can only go so far in critiquing society. At their worst they are divisive and even reactionary.

I really do not know enough of the details of the 50-50 policy of the SSP to have a strong opinion either way - but surely if you believe in true equality and socialism it is better to ensure the most suitable person gets the job rather than selecting people in a top-down, bureaucratic manner.

True equality

Rotten bloc

Steve Freeman of the Revolutionary Democratic Group and new Socialist Alliance asks me if I am in favour of ‘compromises’.

Well, the word ‘compromise’ can hide a number of different arrangements. For example, there are principled agreements and there are rotten blocs. To be specific, Steve and his pals voted at the Socialist Alliance Democracy Platform March 12 conference last year that the new SA would have a federal structure, an SSP-type party structure and that the whole thing would be a Marxist party. To me that is a rotten bloc.

Likewise, Steve now complains that the Alliance for Green Socialism has come out against the RDG’s emphasis on republicanism. But no doubt the AGS voted for republicanism at the new SA conference provided that the RDG voted for its emphasis on environmentalism. Again, to me it smacks of a rotten bloc.

Steve shows up his whole method when he suggests that the Democratic Socialist Alliance could have stayed in the new SA and voted with the AGS to throw out the RDG’s republicanism at the next conference. I ask you - am I bothered? Steve’s method is doing Machiavellian deals in back rooms (perhaps not so smoke-filled these days) - who can cobble together a ‘compromise’ to win the vote?

The DSA rejects Steve’s method of conciliationism and that is why we are not part of his new SA. We believe in principled agreements where a process of discussion of differences to deepen understanding is important.

To keep his ragged band together, Steve has to invent an enemy and he has decided upon the DSA. I say ‘invent’ because Steve and his new SA committee totally misrepresent the DSA, often telling downright lies. For example, Steve says that the main purpose of the DSA is “anti-sectarian hostility to all other socialist groups”. We are against sectarianism, that’s true - what’s wrong with that? But for Steve to say that we are hostile to all other socialist groups is a lie. At all of our national members’ meetings and day schools we invite comrades from other groups to discuss differences and means of cooperation. Along with other groups, we are sponsoring Critique’s conference on the need for a new Marxist party that will be held on November 4 in London. Also, some DSA members are actually members of other groups - we don’t have a problem with that.

Steve also accuses the DSA of “unprincipled compromising and fudging” because we claim to be Marxist but stand by the original Socialist Alliance programme People before profit, which is left-reformist. We stand by this pro- gramme as a basis, or starting point, because we come from the SA. We have had day schools on the question of developing a programme and contributions in our bulletins. In our discussions, we have realised the inadequacies of People before profit and left-reformism. We are producing a DSA pamphlet on this issue that is in preparation at the moment.

In contrast to our method of discussion of differences, Steve makes a statement that “the working class needs a party of the broad left … neither Labourist nor Marxist-Trotskyist”. Furthermore, everybody opposing his point of view is “sectarian garbage”. No spirit of ‘compromise’ here, then! And would Steve’s broad left have a federal structure and an SSP-type party structure? Would it be a Marxist party? Who knows? Would it be left-reformist, centrist, revolutionary or what?

Steve should come clean, be precise and not call for a broad left and left unity in the abstract - it’s like voting for motherhood and apple pie.

Rotten bloc
Rotten bloc

Unity call

I have often thought that the Lambertist group and Militant (out of which Ted Grant’s Socialist Appeal came) were both adaptations of similar politics to very different national situations 50 years ago.

Both put great emphasis on working through existing organisations of the class; in that sense both were in conception rather ‘entrist’. Neither rejected in principle taking up trade union positions as bureaucrats. The Lambertists were much more successful in attracting distinguished French intellectuals than Militant. The latter were often very dull and boring, while the Lambertists, quite unlike Militant, gained a reputation for thuggery against dissident members and other smaller Trotskyist groups.

Perhaps both those differences reflected the much greater weight of Stalinism in the French working class movement and on intellectuals in French political life. British political life, particularly on the left, was far more philistine and sometimes even consciously against ‘middle class’ culture. Yes, I know that is a sweeping statement and Ted Grant loves his Bach, Mozart and Beethoven (which shows he has good taste), but, broadly, I think that it is true.

The Lambertists, partly because of the weight of the French Communist Party, ghettoised themselves in the small socialist trade union federation where they were influential, while Militant, at the height of its influence, proved quite unable to work with other sectors of the left in the Labour Party because they, like the Lambertists, had somewhat ultimatumist politics. Earlier, they had a couple of Labour Party MPs as secret members, but never prominent trade union bureaucrats.

When these tendencies created ‘international’ affiliates in countries without either mass Stalinist or social-democratic movements, the basic differences seem to me to be much less. That is not to say that in Venezuela or other Latin American countries local mistakes and betrayals have not been made, but the basic differences between these two, apart from their local records, might strike the unprejudiced visitor from outer space, or even someone without organisational loyalties in London and Paris, as very minor.

So, although this comment may sound somewhat carping and sectarian in tone, in fact it is a call for unity, or rather a careful examination of the possibility of unity, as it seems to me that the orientation of these two tendencies has a good to deal to offer the working class - it is always better to hang together than to hang separately. Practical work together and joint programmes rather than organisational fusion is what I would recommend, until it seems pointless not to fuse.

Unity call

Climate change

Alex Nichols’s response to Jack Conrad’s article on climate change is typical of Socialist Workers Party-type economism.

To begin with, because of his obsessive concern with immediate agitational issues, he misunderstands the article. Jack pointed out that climate change is a permanent feature of our planet and cannot be prevented. It may take place very slowly, but it can also take place very quickly. Our ability to survive climate change depends on our ability to adapt to our environment and our environment being adapted to our needs. In other words a co-evolutionary approach (perhaps comrade Nichols can explain why that paints anyone into a “sectarian corner”).

For all life, survival depends on its ability to evolve biologically, but in the human case social evolution is the key. We are capable of surviving in both hotter and colder world climates. The view that we must return to the world climatic regime of the recent past is arbitrary and in the long term unsustainable. Also it seems to be assumed that with a few technical adjustments the present mode of production can continue without endangering life on the planet. Undoubtedly the present climate warming is framed by capitalist economic activity over the past 200-300 years, which shows climate can be affected by human behaviour. Conrad’s article does not set out to disprove “‘anthropogenic’ warming”.

Conrad’s piece was not agitational, but nonetheless we do have views on transport. We are in favour of free urban public transport. But, as most journeys are made out of necessity, transport policy cannot be addressed without taking into account both where people live and where they work.

We are for planned urban and rural development that shortens journey times and improves living standards. Which is impossible to achieve without the public ownership of land.

Food miles are not irrelevant, but the main reason for developing local food markets à la France must be social. Good food reverses the destruction of peasant and worker culture perpetrated by the industrial revolution and emphasises the civilising nature of leisure. Of course, if we cannot afford the food or the time, it is irrelevant. We need to control the price of food and the length of the working week for the whole of Europe.

As for air miles, I am in favour of the developing global culture and am not prepared to sacrifice it in favour of localism. If you want people to forego air travel, then how about longer paid holidays so we can develop a different and better holiday culture? In fact, remembering my own hippy past, I am personally doubtful if anyone under the age of 30 should even consider a permanent job.

I could go on, but the examples I’ve given point to the need to provide a social answer - not a technical fix, which leaves the workers sacrificing their lifestyle, while the perpetrators of the problem are merely requested to tidy up their act.

Finally anthropogenic climate warming is merely a symptom of a much deeper crisis. Namely capitalism’s ruthless robbing of the planet and all who live on it. Any transport policy or energy policy (or whatever) that does not imply the transcending of capitalist relations is not a practical policy. Any fudging on this to maintain the widest possible unity leaves us restricted to bourgeois solutions.

Climate change
Climate change

Tool of Tehran

Why does Anne Mc Shane express surprise at the latest absurd manoeuvrings of the Stop the War Coalition (‘Obscene apologia’, June 15)?

Let us be clear: the misnamed STWC is very selective as to which wars it opposes. It does not oppose the murderous terrorist war currently being waged on innocent Iraqis by an unholy coalition of ex-Ba’athists and al Qa’eda cells. This murder spree has claimed more than 6,000 lives in Iraq already this year, but the STWC will not criticise this. Instead, we have leading figures in the STWC defining such acts of outright murder as “legitimate resistance to the occupation”.

If this were not disgraceful enough, we now have the obscene spectacle of the STWC acting as a cheerleader for the theocratic regime in Iran. A regime that recently jailed hundreds of trade unionists and that still permits the brutal killing of women and gay people on non-existent grounds.

Worse still, the STWC appears quite content to give its unconditional support to an Iranian regime intent upon waging all-out nuclear war on one of its neighbours - Israel.

Why anyone who is genuinely opposed to war or concerned with human rights or who is a socialist would still want to have anything to do with this tool of Tehran and fanatical islamists beats me. As a socialist and former convenor of my local STWC group in Swansea in 2003, I know what I am talking about here.

Tool of Tehran

No apology

It is rather shameful and disgraceful for the CPGB to refer to Marxist academic Elaheh Rostami Povey as an “apologist for the Iranian regime”, when all her work contains a clear opposition to the Iranian regime and support for democracy movements.

I would suggest that Anne Mc Shane read the chapter on Iran that Povey wrote (under pseudonym) in the book Revolutionary rehearsals (edited by Colin Barker), which contains a sharp critique of the strategy of the left in Iran in relation to Khomeini and its failure to engage with the workers’ movements, or a more recent interview in International Socialism, where she clearly aligns herself with democracy movements in Iran.

Tina Becker further claims that Action Iran are apologists for the regime in Tehran, yet they recently had a 1,000-strong meeting in London with Iranian Nobel peace prize winner Shirin Ebadi, a well-known critic of the regime.

No apology