I seemed to have touched a raw nerve with Dave Spencer in asking about the new Campaign for Marxist Partys policies and plans for attracting young people.
I am not hostile in principle to a project that aims to unite Marxists in a single organisation. However, though formulating a programme may be a necessary first step, formulating and implementing agreed policies is also going to be necessary and - on the far lefts record - difficult.
In attempting to sell the campaign to, say, trade union activists, wont it be necessary to spell out where you stand on issues such as affiliation/disaffiliation from the Labour Party, the present John for Leader campaign and whether you actually support trade unions as a form of workers organisation, etc? Many other examples could be given, but the point is that the groups involved in the campaign have important differences. The CMP is either then going to dodge the differences - eg, have a CP-type coalition approach - or inevitably get involved in fighting for each groups positions.
Linked to this is the issue of control of the campaign - given no-one will want to be selling policies they dont agree with. So we come back to mechanisms for managing differences over ideas that are democratic and dont threaten unity in action. Dodging policy formation wont work.
And if you want to read some poetry, Dave, see http://wwwpetepoetry-bullybuster.blogspot.com.
As an active trade unionist for the last 28 years, almost all of them as an elected rep, I read Stan Keables claim that I seek to limit socialist activity to the Labour Party and that I regard the struggle outside it as irrelevant with some amusement. My reference to fighting within the constituency parties, the trade unions and other affiliated bodies was made specifically in relation to the bodies that will decide whether the left can mount a credible challenge to Gordon Brown, and I make no apologies for considering that a higher priority at the present time than debate for debates sake among Marxists.
This doesnt mean that struggles in the wider world are irrelevant. Indeed, John McDonnells campaign website (www.john4leader.org.uk) contains a wide range of policy statements, from the occupation of Iraq, pensioners and climate change to privatisation and an alternative manifesto for London. Nobody involved in the campaign is under any illusions that we can afford to limit our appeal to party members. We need to appeal to forces much broader than those within the party. Nevertheless, it is party structures that will decide, and others on the left will have to make up their minds whether they want to be part of the problem or part of its solution.
Lyndon Johnson said of Gerald Ford that he couldnt chew gum and fart at the same time. Something similar is often true on the far left. While it frequently accuses the Labour left of burrowing away in reformism to the exclusion of other more important things, the irony is that there is no shortage of Marxist trade unionists who rarely take part in any political activity, or of revolutionaries who never venture inside a trade union branch. The truth is that participating in the Labour Party is no obstacle to taking part in any other activities.
When I attend my next branch meeting on a wet Wednesday night, I doubt I will be missing out on much in the way of independent Marxist activity. Indeed, the pages of Weekly Worker devote a very high proportion of their coverage to goings-on within the far left, while there is very little coverage of trade union issues or other social struggles. Could this be because most of your comrades arent particularly active in the unions?
And if you think socialists outside the Labour Party are intrinsically more militant and more principled than those inside, then take a long hard look at my union, PCS, which has an NEC dominated by the independently organised Marxists of the Socialist Party and their allies. Unfortunately it is over two years since PCS last called a single days national action - during which time 55,000 jobs have been lost. And heres a real irony - a number of the most critical voices in the union calling for a real fight are Labour Party members.
Stan writes that independent Marxist organisation brings with it immense value and collective strength. Far from conveying strength, the ever growing number of small party-building projects, including Respect, the Scottish Socialist Party, Solidarity, the Campaign for a New Workers Party and the Campaign for a Marxist Party, demonstrate with remorseless regularity just how weak and divided the far left is.
Stans call to organise Marxists within Labour just as much as outside it carries little weight. There is plenty of evidence to show that those who attempt to operate both in the party and in socialist organisations outside it end up being distrusted by both. In any case, this single-minded concentration upon debate among self-selecting Marxists results in cutting yourselves off from the vast majority of workers who arent interested in leftwing trainspotting.
Jack Conrad does not appear to have a problem with the term transitional or presumably transitional method. He writes: Fulfilling the minimum programme creates the conditions which enable the fulfilment of the maximum programme. There is a transition between A and B. The problem with Trotskys Transitional programme is that it is not transitional. It is mired in catastrophic economic perspectives - simply defending existing economic conditions will spontaneously create the transition from capitalism to socialism.
Although Trotskys political economy became more determinist during the 1930s, his understanding of capitalist economic crisis was rooted in the economic analysis of the early Third International. But instead of critically looking at the political economy of the Third International, comrade Conrad appears to recommend Kautskys high constitutional politics as a better example of the transition to socialism. It could be argued that the problems with the first four years of the Comintern were precisely the influence of the Second Internationals view of the capitalist economy.
In the Erfurt programme the gap between the socialist objectives, outlined by Kautsky, and the practical section, written by Bernstein, on the democratisation of the state was bridged by historical necessity. The situation was considered hopeless for the bourgeoisie, who would be unable to suppress the transition to socialism, like a natural law. This is why elections, a majority in parliament and a peaceful transition were Kautskys fundamental strategy.
This brings us to Joe Craigs point that workers democracy is not simply the undialectical quantitative increments of democracy to complete unfinished bourgeois democracy, but a break with the capitalist state (Difficult but refreshing alternative, November 23). Democratising the capitalist state can lead, as in 1918 in Germany, to the undermining of workers organisations and the defeat of the revolution.
Jack asserts that Marx shared Kautskys view of bourgeois parliaments as neutral instruments that could become instruments of proletarian rule or bourgeois rule. But this is simply not the case, as any glance at Lenins State and revolution demonstrates. Lenin carefully reconstitutes Marxs most developed views on the state and the transition to workers power following the Paris Commune. This is particularly relevant, since prior to his re-examination of the views of Marx on the state (inspired by the creativity of the masses in the soviets in 1917), Lenin shared Kautskys perspective of democratising the capitalist state.
The lesson of the Paris Commune for Marx was the fusion of political and economic representation, whereas Jack seems to separate high constitutional politics from economics, leaving capital accumulation or social slavery in place until the next stage. Even in the most democratic parliament and bourgeois state the masses are excluded from fundamental decision-making. The capitalist state cannot contain workers democracy. The workers cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery. The solution is not to counterpose constitutional change to economic struggle, but find a bridge to connect the existing daily class struggle with the strategic aim of revolution.
In September, I exposed your failure to meet the criteria for two of Mike Macnairs Three political commitments that he argues should form the basis of any Marxist party (Letters, September 21). Since then Macnair has written a long article defending his half-baked Kautskyism against the politics of Barry Biddulph and Matthew Jones. However, Macnair - or any other CPGB member, for that matter - has yet to make any response to my arguments.
In the October 12 issue the failure to promote independent working class politics continued in Control-freakery and decline. This article previewed the following weekends Respect conference and bizarrely included the comment: As can be expected, there is not a single mention of class struggle, capitalism or the need to put forward a vision for an alternative socialist society.
The attentive reader will no doubt remember that the CPGB moved two motions at the conference and, as I pointed out in my last letter, neither of them even referred to the working class, let alone bothered to put forward a vision for an alternative socialist society. The article noted: The motions reveal the true popular frontism of Respect. Perfectly true, comrades, and I can only assume that you include your own anodyne motions in this condemnation, as your calls for more democratic structures and support for John McDonnell meekly accepted the underlying popular frontism of Respect.
It should also be noted that this popular frontism has been true since day one of Respect and it begs the question as to why the CPGB has consistently called on workers to join what the article described as a politically bankrupt project?
Your article on Exeter Universitys christian student society was interesting (No bans on christian fundamentalists, November 23).
I am a committee member at the Christian Union at the University of Sheffield. Your point about self-organised student groups having the ability to choose the criteria for their own leadership is particularly valid in my opinion. It is simply common sense that to lead an organisation you have the same ethos and beliefs as those of the organisation to which you belong.
There are a couple of points in your article that I wish to clarify. The Christian Union at Sheffield does not receive direct funding from UCCF, the umbrella organisation to which you referred. As far as I am aware, this is also the case for all other university christian unions. Our money comes from student membership fees, university funds and donations from current members, alumni and some supportive churches. This enables us to put on events, as does the generosity of members, who often provide food and drink at their own cost.
Furthermore, all christian unions state clearly their identity and aims, on their publicity, at events and on their respective websites. CUs are not ashamed of their identity and therefore make no attempts to hide their beliefs. In fact, doing so would be detrimental to their efforts at spreading their message. For christians, it is not a matter of numbers of converts, but the personal relationship of individuals with god. Thus, hiding their beliefs would not aid their attempts to spread the christian message.
Finally, I would like to express the encouragement this article has given me. The fact that christianity and communism are dialectically opposed has not prevented you from advocating common sense and freedom for christian students. Heres hoping that the christian community would do the same if the situation were on the other foot.
It has been heartening to read about Communist Students. I hope the local groups are accessible to the great numbers of students who have natural leftwing instincts, but dont think of themselves as working class, let alone Marxists. There is hope for them yet ...
When I was at university, I didnt feel part of the working class and even resented having to get a National Union of Students card to get cheap beer. My misunderstanding at that time of what constitutes the working class is still widespread, and it is a legacy of the 19th century: working class people dont go to university, and probably wear flat caps and keep whippets, while middle class people get to enjoy the attractions of consumerism.
This may have been a true representation 150 years ago, but masks the simpler and more scientific definition that if you have to work to avoid being evicted, having your car repossessed, getting taken to court, etc, then you are working class - and therefore almost every student in the country is, particularly as they are now in debt from the moment they enrol. We only cease being working class when we can choose not to work because we have accumulated (hello, comrade Halpin!).
Capitalism is founded on each member of society trampling on the others to get from one class to the other, and of course we are daily encouraged to do so. Now, many students are studying precisely because they want to get there, but dont like the trampling bit and are painfully aware of the dilemma. Our first task should be to welcome and engage, and a good start is by debunking the notion that class struggle is nothing to do with them.
Tony Greenstein has progressed as far as pretending to listen. But he is still getting it wrong. I didnt accuse him of talking of military defeat or pogroms, but of not talking about them (a small, but significant difference), when it is a likely outcome of the proposal to force Israeli Jews into a unitary Palestinian state against their will, and about which he has apparently no qualms.
I was not putting an equals sign between the oppressed and oppressors, but arguing that the best way to both end the current tragedy and prevent a future one is the development of a communist programme based on an appeal to the shared humanity of both sides. At the moment this does, however, involve championing the equal right of both Palestinians and Israelis to have their own state.
Comrade Greenstein denies that the Israelis have a humanity or class interests that can be appealed to. He says: The Israeli Jews as a collective can only be oppressors because that is the form that their identity takes (Letters, November 9). In other words, they are oppressors because they are oppressors. And it is no good putting our faith in the working class: There is no example in the history of imperialism where the settler working class has forsaken its settler identity in favour of an alliance with the oppressed masses of the indigenous population.
Perhaps there is an example in the United Irishmen movement, where protestants not only rebelled against British imperialism in defence of their own interests, but joined with the catholic rebels on the basis of a joint progressive vision. Although this example does indicate that settler colonialists can change, it also shows how difficult it can be to break the working class element from their ruling class.
If you look at my previous letter I dont think I played down those difficulties. I commented: It will have to come through the voluntary agreement of the two peoples concerned. This, sadly, is not achievable at present. Furthermore: That is why we have put forward the perspective of uniting the Arab states under the leadership of the working class. Not a shoo-in by any means.
But Tonys rigid belief that the Israeli Jews are stuck irrevocably in their own reactionary Zionist world view is based on a crude, non-dialectical, non-Marxist view. Everything must change and old ideologies are eventually discarded.
How surprising that Camilla Power perpetuates the long-discredited myth that Marx sent Darwin an inscribed copy of Das Kapital and begged permission to dedicate it, or a yet-to-be-published subsequent volume, to the author of The origin of species (Sex and the human revolution, November 23).
While it is true that Marx sent an inscribed copy of the first volume (it remains on public view at Down House, Kent), that was the end of the story: Marx knew the second volume of his major work would not be completed in his lifetime.
The myth originated in 1931, when a letter from Darwin was found among the papers left by the deceased Karl Marx. Dated October 13 1880 and written in Darwins handwriting, it thanks an unnamed addressee for a book proof soon to be published and offered as a dedication to the famous evolutionist, while at the same time expressing disapproval of the books stance.
Contrary to Camillas claim, Darwin insisted: It has always been my object to avoid writing on religion, and I have confined myself to science. I may, however, be unduly biased by the pain which it would give some members of my family, if I aided in any way direct attacks on religion. I am sorry to refuse you any request, but I am old and have very little strength, and looking over proof-sheets (as I know by present experience) fatigues me much.
The Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute in Moscow first published Darwins letter in 1934, describing it as a rejection of Marxs hypothesised dedication offer vis-à-vis Das Kapital. Several historians unquestioningly accepted Moscows hypothesis, including Isaiah Berlin. More recently, David McLellan (1973), writes in his Marx biography: Marx certainly wished to dedicate the second volume of Capital to Darwin this suggests no more than that Marx appreciated Darwins work. New Left Review told the same tale (November-December 1973). With the wisdom of hindsight, it is amazing when one looks at the text of Darwins letter - volume 2 of Capital cannot really be appropriately described as an onslaught on religion.
In the summer of 1974, American researcher Margaret Fay stumbled upon a letter sent to Darwin by Eleanor Marxs lover, Edward Aveling, who in 1881 had published the Students Darwin. The pieces of the puzzle started fitting together. It made sense to suspect it was Aveling who had sought permission to dedicate his booklet to the man of Beagle fame. Playing a hunch, Fay searched Avelings surviving documents - and there it was. Dated October 12 1880 was a letter to Darwin: My friends, Mrs Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh MP, contemplate publishing a series of works either by great scientific and freethinking men or upon their labours I propose, again subject to your approval, to honour my work and myself by dedicating the former to you I forward herewith a little pamphlet translated into English by Mrs Besant and if it will not be troubling you too greatly I should be very glad to send you the proof sheets of my work as they are issued
Fay concludes her posthumously published research findings: With the discovery of this letter, Marxs offer to dedicate any of his work to Darwin was finally revealed for what it really is: a myth which entered the accumulation of historical facts when a letter which Darwin had written to Aveling in 1880 was attributed to Marxs correspondence 50 years after both Marx and Darwin died (Monthly Review March 1980).
The question of no platform for fascists is nothing to do with paternalistic attitudes toward the working class, as Simon Wells asserts, but is about raising the consciousness and confidence of the workers.
Who is to carry out no platforming (which, by the way, has more to do with strategy than tactics)? Revolutionaries demand that the organised workers movement, through mass mobilisation, prevents the fascists from spreading their filthy ideas: in the case of fascist street activity (paper sales, leafleting sessions, etc), large numbers of workers need to be organised and prepared to prevent them; in the case of TV or other media broadcasts, the broadcasting unions need to pull the plug on them, striking or sabotaging if necessary; fascist marches must be opposed by counter-marches based on the organised workers movement.
What is the nature of fascism? It is a counterrevolutionary expression of capitalism in decline, with no way out but the smashing of the rights and conditions of the workers in order to restore profitability and bourgeois order.
How should fascism be fought? Only by the mobilisation of the revolutionary class (workers) and their allies, on a programme to smash capitalism and the fascism that breeds on its sick decline.
Gerry Downing attempts an answer to my point on the mass importation of labour, but skirts the issues.
Bob Crow argued at a London Social Forum event that the bosses were seeking to recruit thousands of workers from eastern Europe, implying thousands would be replaced on lower wages. This has already happened on the buses, where the TGWU has a specific policy of agreeing to the recruitment of workers on lower wages or not doing anything to stop this. Newsline recently reported that eastern European workers are on £7 an hour instead of £10.63 at the Holloway bus garage (www.wrp.org.uk/news/1693).
Marx, commenting on similar issues which led to strikes in London, stated the following: A warning. Some time ago the London journeymen tailors formed a general association to uphold their demands against the London master tailors, who are mostly big capitalists The fact is that, as a result of the London events, they had to agree, initially, to a 15% wage rise in Edinburgh as well. But secretly they sent agents to Germany to recruit journeymen tailors, particularly in the Hanover and Mecklenburg areas, for importation to Edinburgh. The first group has already been shipped off. The purpose of this importation is the same as that of the importation of Indian coolies to Jamaica: namely, perpetuation of slavery (March 15 1865).
I would like to say how disgusted I am at the despicable way Solidarity MSPs Tommy Sheridan and Rosemary Byrne are behaving over the parliamentary workers dispute in Scotland.
The fact of the matter is that by the removal of money from the workers wage fund those workers are now being forced into redundancy by bosses who are not honouring the contracts they have made. To try to hide this disgraceful behaviour by spin, such as saying it is a political dispute rather than an industrial dispute, is revealing their true colours. Attacking individual workers - and the Industrial Workers of the World and National Union of Journalists, who are representing them - is nothing less than typical boss behaviour.
Sheridan and Byrne and those supporting them in this matter should be ashamed of themselves.
No doubt youll have a few complaints from certain quarters in response to Manny Neiras letter about the IWW/NUJ Scottish parliament workers.
When I raised the matter here in my locality, one or two Socialist Party in England and Wales people were quick to complain that we were taking sides in the quarrel between the SSP and Solidarity. But the bottom line is, surely, that two of the employers have reneged on a collective agreement, end of story. Dont those SPEW members realise that the IWW would also have backed the workers if it were the other way around and the two MSPs were still in the SSP?
Its not about which political party you support but whether you are for the employers or the workers.
Nick Rogers writes that the value of unskilled labour-power is what present bourgeois society decides is needed to reproduce a worker lacking any marketable skills (A vital task, November 23).
For surplus value to be extracted from an unskilled worker the value of his labour must exceed what he is paid by the capitalist. If, as Mr Rogers argues, an unskilled worker is paid the value of his labour (that is, what present bourgeois society decides is needed to reproduce a worker), then there is no surplus value extracted and the unskilled worker is not exploited.
Not, I think, a position a Marxist would like to take.