I appreciated your article on Barack Obama (Black face for White House?, February 15). Your comparison with Clinton was astute. Obama is also appealing to the charismatic and overly sentimental comparisons with Kennedy (he has spoken of a new generation of leadership) and Lincoln (he has boldly played up the fact that he started in the Illinois state legislature, as did Lincoln).
Unlike Latin America, us here in the US never get the option of a socialist candidate and agenda. Whats the story with your Labour Party?
Thanks for your perspective and your efforts.
A small point. Actually, there has been one other black senator since the so-called reconstruction period, who held office back in the 1960s or 70s. I forget his name right off, but I think he was from one of the New England states.
Like I say, it is a small correction to Schreaders article, which was very good indeed. And the point is made - there has been almost no African American presence in the US Senate, and damned little even in the House of Representatives.
Further to my letter last week, actually there was a Gothic Line in northern Italy, but it is not as famous as the Gustav Line.
I made a mistake and dont mind admitting it.
As a gay refugee from Iraq, I know that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Iraqis are at daily risk of execution by the shia death squads of the Badr and Sadr militias, whose members have infiltrated the Iraqi police and are abusing their authority to pursue a plan to eliminate all homosexuals in Iraq. This is happening with the collusion of key ministers in the Iraqi government.
The Badr and Sadr militias are the armed wings of the two main shia parties that control the government of Iraq. These parties - particularly the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq - are complicit in the widespread execution of Iraqi LGBTs. What is happening today is one of the most organised and systematic sexual cleansings in the history of the world.
Last November five members of the gay rights group, Iraqi LGBT, were abducted in Baghdad and presumably murdered. For the previous few months these activists had been documenting the killing of lesbians and gays, and relaying details of homophobic executions to our office in London. I have no doubt that they were targeted not just because they were gay, but also to stop them exposing to the outside world the anti-gay pogrom that is happening in Iraq today.
The west, which caused much of the current chaos in Iraq, should be giving refuge to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Iraqis. Yet right now the US and Britain are turning down asylum claims made by Iraqi LGBTs.
The Rotten Elements (www.rotten elements.org.uk) would like to flag up a number of issues.
First, we have some objections to the rather apologetic stance of Gordon Downie in Soundtracks for the new American century: As the Bush regime prepares to fabricate yet more reasons to attack another Middle East state, one may legitimately question any time spent analysing the superstructural phenomena discussed here.
Interesting that in the same week, Michael Rosen used a similar methodology in Socialist Worker: There is also the form of resistance that reclaims parts of the culture that the state wants to claim for itself. This is usually high art - opera, painting, classical music, theatre. Its all ours to enjoy, remake and share. Im not kidding myself that these culture wars are a substitute for the mass action well need to resist the barbarities of this unequal world (February 17).
Rosens folksy homily illustrates rather well the problems with Downies defensive stance. Presumably, the Socialist Workers Party is in a state of near hysteria due to having the chance to trudge around central London on the anti-Trident demo (next week it will be some other issue), so it probably will never have time for much work in the culture wars. Jam tomorrow. Art only on a Sunday, please, comrades.
Thats fine if we want to revolutionise society in order that we can go on 24-hour virtual reality demos and so that we can be permanently angry at the way things are going. If, on the other hand, we want to make a society in which our activity is free, meaningful and no longer at the beck and call of abstract universals (money in the case of capitalism; activism in the case of the so-called revolutionary left), then that might mean we have to start exploring and creating seeds of a new culture now.
As far as the Rotten Elements are concerned, it is not therefore legitimate to question time spent analysing so-called superstructural phenomena. Criticism, writing, reading and performing are all part of our liberation, as Im sure Downie and Rosen might recognise. Yes, Iran is an important issue. But we dont need to turn ourselves into SWP-type dolts in its cause. That is the ultimate logic of Downies legitimate question.
That leads us on to the CPGB. We note that you are undertaking to revise your Draft programme. This is currently pretty quiet on art and culture. (Under Youth there is: The provision of a broad range of sports and cultural centres under the control of elected representatives of youth. Under Pensioners and the elderly: Social clubs for the elderly should be democratic and subsidised by the state, not charities. Under Crime and prisons: Prisoners must be allowed access to books, newspapers and periodicals of their choice.)
Surely there is rather more to say under the aegis of the revolutionary democratisation of the arts, much more that just access, provision or subsidies. However, before we have such a dialogue, the CPGB (and we mean the core of the organisation rather than people on the fringes) really does need to come clean on where it stands on the aesthetics that would underpin its programmatic demands. If, as the Rotten Elements sometimes suspect, there is still a lingering Stalinist desire to reduce culture to a narrowly defined politics, then that would undercut any programmatic ideas about democratisation.
We are sure that if we took a straw poll of CPGB members they would: (a) abhor the Stalinist persecution of artists; and (b) agree that there should not be any proscription on artistic styles and approaches. But when they argue according to their instincts it is a different matter. We have listened many times to CPGB debates on art and heard core members spout reductive and boring official communist ideas (see www.rottenelements.org.uk/Septemberparker.html). We still have a situation where the Weekly Worker features cultural reviews that are, at worst, banal and, at best, commentaries on political movements.
In short, the CPGB has no compass, no theory on art that could provide an anchor for its programmatic development (we consciously leave aside Jack Conrads blundering metaphysics). Our group has written frequently on the lefts malaise in this area. However, the CPGB, despite its laudable willingness not to reduce itself to a mindless practice, is still part of the problem.
Alan Earth spirit Debenham pines: But the most important need is for a replacement of these powerful [religious] relics with a new, international, real peoples religious movement, based on democratically evolved, universal morality (Letters, February 8).
Here we go again. As Alan evidently either hasnt read or digested Their morals and ours by Leon Trotsky, Im pleased to provide a free link to the online edition of the pamphlet: www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/1938/1938-mor.htm.
But just what is a universal morality? Trotsky explains: Under normal conditions a normal man observes the commandment: Thou shalt not kill! But if he murders under exceptional conditions for self-defence, the judge condones his action. If he falls victim to a murderer, the court will kill the murderer. The necessity of the courts action, as that of the self-defence, flows from antagonistic interests. In so far as the state is concerned, in peaceful times it limits itself to individual cases of legalised murder so that in time of war it may transform the obligatory commandment, Thou shalt not kill(!) into its opposite. The most humane governments, which in peaceful times detest war, proclaim during war that the highest duty of their armies is the extermination of the greatest possible number of people .
This vacuity in the norms obligatory upon all arises from the fact that in all decisive questions people feel their class membership considerably more profoundly and more directly than their membership in society. The norms of obligatory morality are in reality charged with class - that is, antagonistic - content. The moral norm becomes the more categoric, the less it is obligatory upon all. The solidarity of workers, especially of strikers or barricade fighters, is incomparably more categoric than human solidarity in general.
There can be such thing as universal morality so long as there are classes, for morality doesnt exist in a vacuum, but is rather the values that a particular class holds true and dear, and not necessarily shared by another class. Whats a crime: the robbing of a bank or the founding of a bank? It depends upon who you are.
A disembodied universal morality suspended in the sky like a cloud is simply another word for a god. Truly universal morality implies that there are no more social classes, so that the naturally evolving sets of rights and wrongs will indeed be universal, for they will be relevant to the needs of people in general and not to particular classes with their own particular interests.
Marxists reject religion in all its shapes and forms, recognising religion as the world view of an oppressing class, refracted through a mystical filter into the minds of those whom they oppress, for thats the only way that the oppressed can accept the values of an alien class.
Shoot the workers
In answer to Michael Little (Letters, February 15) I must say I read Zoe Ellwins remark about Cuban socialism as being intentionally ironic (Letters, February 8). How can a country whose future is entirely in the hands of one sick old man be considered as socialist - or even the most deformed sort of workers state? It is so far from being a workers state that nobody has even bothered to wonder what the workers might think, let alone ask their opinion. That is, except for comrade Little - who is definitely not being ironic.
Comrade Little thinks that to let the population decide through elections would be to liquidate the question of which class rules. In fact it clarifies the issue. If the workers win, if they lose or if it is a split decision, you know what the balance of forces are and can decide what to do next.
Comrade Little clearly favours the bullet instead. But his bullets are not going to be under the democratic control of the workers, but under the control of the bureaucrats defending the so-called deformed workers state.
No, the comrade is not an apologist for Stalinism, but an out and out supporter of it. Karl Marxs revolution from below by the workers is now revolution from above, led by what Trotskyites call the most counterrevolutionary force in the workers movement. Namely, the Stalinist bureaucracy. You cannot defend the working class by defending a state that has been constructed by counterrevolutionaries.
Of course, I agree that American interventions in Cuba are making the situation worse, but, as the Iraq debacle demonstrates, imperialism is not in the interest of most Americans either. The answer is not to create illusions in Castro, but to oppose imperialism at home and to strive to unite communists around a democratic programme of self-liberation - a Communist Party.
We have to overcome the mechanical materialism that treats the workers state (or socialist state - they are the same thing) as a distinct form of social organisation rather than what it really is: the rule of the working class - neither more nor less. To clarify a class question, without recourse to bullets in this instance: if the working class are ruled over, then it isnt a workers state, deformed or otherwise. It is not even a dual power situation that holds out the possibility of revolution from below.
Shoot the workers
Shoot the workers
Regarding Eddie Trumans letter last week, it is always sad to see an ex-Marxist floundering around in an intellectual twilight zone in which nothing beyond the end of his nose makes any sense.
To even attempt to conflate an anti-imperialist struggle in the Six Counties with a domestic issue in Scotland, where the last time I checked there has not been a war lasting 30 years, where there have not been British troops and armoured cars on the streets, really does reveal a pitiful ignorance of the role of material conditions in arriving at an analysis of each.
But, then again, knowing Eddie as I do, this is just par for the course. What else can you expect from a man who has signed up to the view, prevalent amongst the clique who currently controls the Scottish Socialist Party, that every man should be viewed as a potential rapist?
For or against
I was interested to read John Wight, Tommy Sheridans Solidarity party press officer, quoted in the Scottish press recently saying he didnt support armed struggle.
Can this be the same John Wight who but two weeks ago used the pages of this paper to lambast Sinn Féin for taking part in the peace process in the north of Ireland?
For or against
For or against
Back to airships! says comrade Moody, and comrade Liddle seconds the motion. I know: how about going back to horse-drawn carriages, sailing ships and water mills as well?
If an environmental disaster is imminent, then we are powerless to prevent it now. But we are capable of surviving. Natural selection is on our side. Whilst still primitive, humans survived the ice age, so lets not get all panicky and scared because the planets getting a bit warmer. Global warming is something to survive; it cant be prevented.
Build up flood defences, prepare to move agricultural activities to areas which are likely to be more conducive to growing crops and raising animals, and keep an eye on the sky for a planet to colonise and secure the survival of the species.
Congratulations to Anne Mc Shane for writing an informative article about the latest attempts by the SWP to turn the clock back several decades on morality and womens rights (Respect: our new moral guardians, February 8).
The SWP seem not to grasp the difference between not approving of something personally and trying to ban anyone else from doing it. I wouldnt dream of inflicting my naked legs on the world, but wouldnt be so egotistical as to try to ban others from doing so, or men from watching them.
The SWP may be, as Hillel Ticktin said, no longer on the left, but it is perceived as being so. It is depressing that their behaviour seems designed to reinforce the popular impression people got of the left during the cold war era - that it is against freedom and against fun.
If the SWP were really interested in womens rights, they would do better to offer their support to Gina Khan, who in a recent interview in the bourgeois press spoke out against the abuse some women have to put up with in the muslim community - forced marriage, polygamy, rape and refusal by men to allow women to choose their career.
At the factory where I work, many of the young women of muslim background have embraced not raunch culture in its full form, but the right to a normal life. They live with their boyfriends and wear push-up bras and short skirts when they enjoy a night out at the pub with their mates.
Some are completely alienated from their parents, either because (like Gina Khan) they have rejected an arranged marriage or because their parents do not approve of their chosen lifestyle. For these women, the right to live their own lives is more important than loyalty to a community.
Whose side is the SWP on - ordinary working class women demanding the freedom to take responsibility for their own decisions, or male self-styled community leaders who want to tell women where they are allowed to go, who they are allowed to see, who they must marry and even what they must wear?
Have the SWP always been so opposed to womens rights? I think not. I think they have modified their attitude to please the islamists in Respect, whom they have tailed since 2003, hoping it will gain them some kind of power and influence in the real world. This is the worst sort of prostitution, more worthy of condemnation than anything done by women whose work the SWP seeks to ban.
Dave Craig makes a logical distinction between two programmes or two stages: the democratic and socialist (One step forward, no steps back, February 15). He asserts that permanent revolution is not the merging of the democratic revolution and socialist revolution. Dave cites a phrase about growing over of the democratic revolution into the socialist revolution from Trotskys polemic with Stalinists in 1928, where, writing from within the cult of Lenin, Trotsky attempts to demonstrate he was the best Leninist after Lenin. In this polemic Trotsky minimises his differences with Lenin over the strategy of democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry.
But if we read Trotskys original theory of permanent revolution in Results and prospects - written in 1906 with the lesson of the great workers revolution of 1905 fresh in his mind - it is clear, like it was for Marx following the defeat of 1848, that permanent revolution is one uninterrupted economic and political process, the fusion of democracy and socialism. It was not a question of socialist revolution logically following democratic revolution, but a real class dynamic which would place the proletariat in power and inaugurate the transition to socialism. At the outset democracy would begin the struggle for socialism: the process of class struggle would destroy the barrier between the minimum and maximum programme.
In contrast, Dave seeks to divide the process of permanent revolution with logical scaffolding. There is a national, political revolution - the lower form of democratic revolution - and the higher form of socialist or international economic revolution. Between these two stages there is a third or transition stage, or bridge, of workers power, which is a constitutional regime or settlement that opens up the democratic political revolution to international socialism. In the past he has referred to this transitional period as a dual power republic. The dual power is not a class war between contending forces, but a constitutional republic or a utopia.
The point is this: it is a question of real historical and social forces, not stereotyped deductions from Lenins What is to be done? and Two tactics in the democratic revolution. Contrary to Lenins schema in these two pamphlets, the historical experience of 1905 and 1917 showed the merger of the fight for economic and political freedom. The working class did not limit itself to minimum demands. As Marx put it, the workers must organise themselves independently to put forward their own demands to found a new society at every opportunity or make the revolution permanent until all the propertied classes are driven out.
Do the two-step
In response to Dave Craig and his electric model of democratic permanent revolution, I would phrase his plug and socket strategy - one part democratic, one part socialist - in another way.
Just as you can have a recycling home but not a green world until others join in, you can have democratisation at a national level (which to me includes cooperative organisation of work) but only achieve socialisation (of the means of production) at the international level. This is not stageist but, if you like, a two-step process.
The one step of the past was movement (the bourgeois democratic revolutions of 1645 or 1789), but the proletarian two-step, dialectically together, is walking, really making progress. For there is no socialism in one country, no British socialism, no Dutch or Ghanaian revolution. In the world where national democracy is giving way to the surveillance and quango state, as imperialism descends into desperate globalisation, the two-step is both imaginable and a correction to the increasingly illiberal present and Stalinist past.
Dont try to run before you can walk - do the two-step.
Do the two-step
Tony Blair is proposing a mandatory sentence of five years in jail for anybody convicted of carrying a gun who is aged 17 years or over. Since many people own guns to defend themselves or their property, in addition to their widespread use by criminals, and there is not enough space in prisons as it is, this move seems ridiculous, as well as being massively unjust - with many more serious crimes receiving far lower sentences.
As with many other New Labour policies, the main target is the left, and revolutionary socialists in particular. The crown prosecution service would obviously be selective in who to charge under this law, and political considerations would often influence such decisions.
I favour a completely peaceful socialist revolution and think it would be a very bad move in the United Kingdom (where hatred of guns is widespread after atrocities such as in Dunblane) to carry out an armed uprising unless the forces of big business use guns against socialists first. However, it is extremely naive to expect capitalists to allow a socialist revolution to take place without trying to use armed police (and possibly the army, although they are more likely to mutiny) against us. It will therefore be vital for socialists to form armed defence squads to defend the mass movement of working and middle class people that will be launching a bid for power - and to prepare for an armed insurrection in the event that one becomes necessary.
Blairs law would not apply in Scotland, since this country has a different legal system under the control of the Scottish parliament. Tommy Sheridan MSP, a former member of a revolutionary socialist organisation (Scottish Militant Labour) who now leads Solidarity, has recently argued for tougher laws against people carrying guns. I am unsure as to whether Sheridans stance is motivated by a desire to help the forces of big business prevent a socialist revolution or by a desire to undermine Solidaritys credibility in the eyes of other socialists.