This is in response to Dan Reads reply to my letter on prostitution. I am sure he means well, but I see that many in the west have fallen for some common arguments of the sex industry. For one thing, even where prostitution is legal, there is still the criminal element which traffic women. Studies have shown that all legalisation does is turn criminals into legitimate businessmen and buyers into legitimate consumers. Plus, as communists, how can we possibly fight to expand and legitimise this exploitation and then later claim we are for the emancipation of women?
Visit http://catwinternational.org and you will find a wealth of resources and studies done not only on prostitution and women-trafficking, but also addressing the legalisation argument. They have shown that legalisation doesnt lead to better treatment of girls, health checks or anything positive, for that matter. Most protections exist to protect the buyers, not the women. Our mission must be nothing less than to expose and destroy the industry.
I have already made it clear that, unlike Michael Little, I do not believe Cuba to be a workers state, deformed or otherwise. However, for him the clincher seems to be that countrys collectivised property forms.
I suppose pharaonic Egypt, oriental despotism and even termites nests could be said to feature collectivised property forms, but for comrade Little and other dogmatic Trotskyists the phrase is synonymous with what they call socialist property forms. However, there can be nothing specifically socialist about property per se - what matters is social relations: ie, relations between human beings.
My understanding of Shachtman is that he ended up defending the view that workers were in a better position to fight for socialism under bourgeois democracy than Stalinism. This is not my position. I believe in a minimum-maximum programme, in which workers fight to maximise their power and control within the state that rules over them (whatever form it takes) in order to develop themselves into the world ruling class.
No classes are homogeneous - all contain contradictions and sectional interests that have to be mediated. Democracy provides the working class with a political form of social practice and consciousness for resolving its differences around a common programme. Castro may not own a company, but, as comrade Little points out, he heads an oligarchic coercive apparatus, capable of suppressing all dissent.
All revolutions are political but what Trotskyists refuse to recognise is that, when you turn society upside down and replace the undemocratic rule of a minority with the democratic rule of the majority, that is a social revolution. Bureaucrats can command, but they cannot plan: planning is an expression of human culture and can only work as the democratic expression of the will of the vast majority of society.
As only one class can rule, then obviously all states are dictatorships, but the working class is particularly fortunate in that it is the majority class and has no need to fear democracy - in fact it cannot operate properly without it. The task of communists is to convince the public at large that they are working class, not to devise mad voting schemes that are meant to make it impossible for them to choose capitalism.
Simon Keller, it seems, likes to write snarky letters to the Weekly Worker, calling the CPGB anti-Marxist and all sorts of other bad names. His main basis for this appears to be the CPGBs third campist position, whereby reactionaries of all stripes are opposed to the hilt in favour of the coming to power of the working class.
Most recently, he received a reply from CPGB member Dave Isaacson, which refuted most of his - lets face it - fairly naked distortions of their position by reference to what the Weekly Worker actually printed at the time.
Any honest contestant would, at this point, either admit defeat or concede these points while raising another area of concern. Not for comrade Keller! He has in fact approached Communist Students for comment, with a short note that boils the entire letter down to a single sentence - Unlike most of the left, we certainly refuse to side with the small criminal against the big criminal. Well, comrades can judge for themselves whether this is an adequate summary of a complex position - or, for that matter, the significance of comrade Kellers silence on the rest of Davids response.
What does it mean not to side with the small criminal? An analogy can be drawn quite easily - if, after a failed revolution, the fascists are going to execute me, they may be kind enough to let me choose between a single bullet between the eyes and the noose. Now, I would - without hesitation - choose the former, if it came to that. The problem with Simons position is that it appears that because of this, I should then suspend all criticism of being shot, and stop looking for ways to avert the execution altogether.
Is a defeat for imperialism preferable to a defeat for a non-imperialist country? Ultimately, yes. But this is not a positive call for victory of the latter. In practice, this means we must never suspend criticism of the small criminal, and must aid the working class and oppressed people of that country in whatever way possible. The implications of comrade Kellers position are clear enough - we must not aid or publicise working class struggles. We must, in fact, sell out on these struggles for the dubious pleasure of extending the lifespan of some reactionary bourgeois regime.
This is also the problem with comrade Kellers use of Lenin. Lenin wrote in 1915: If tomorrow, Morocco were to declare war on France, India on England, Persia or China on Russia, and so forth, those would be just, defensive wars, irrespective of who attacked first; and every socialist would sympathise with the victory of the oppressed, dependent, unequal states against the oppressing, slave-owning, predatory great powers.
Well, of course - but can one imagine Lenin, possessed of the sharpest tongue in revolutionary history, keeping his thoughts on the reactionary elements of such anti-imperialist resistance to himself? Hardly. And if he did, he would have been wrong to do so, anyway - Lenin was a revolutionary, not the messiah, and we should not make the former into the latter.
There are many political groups and parties in Iran who are fighting against both their own fundamentalist regime and US imperialism, including both factions of Worker-communist Party of Iran. The Socialist Workers Partys position amounts to supporting the Islamic regime and its repressive policies against the Iranian people - particularly Iranian women, who are fighting a brave battle against that regime.
Lawrence Parker, replying to my criticism on behalf of his Rotten Elements group, states that responding in detail is all a bit redundant, given that Steve and myself have already debated at reasonable length on the UK Left Network discussion list, a debate which he says would have already been picked up on the internet by those who were interested (April 26).
It is true that Lawrence and I have debated this issue on the UKLN. However, given that his letter was submitted to the Weekly Worker and not to that forum, an exchange on an 800-strong, members-only list that the majority of this papers readers will be unable to access hardly seems an adequate substitute for open discussion in the pages of a publication read by many thousands more.
It was with no little nostalgia that I read Jez Butlers letter about the fate of the Red Party. How funny to think that, three years after leaving the CPGB - over its refusal to continue publishing articles in the Weekly Worker opposing the groups (then) position of unconditional support for Respect - we should now use the pages of that same esteemed organ to write the epitaph of the organisation we founded. However, I think it is important to correct Jezs piece, which ignores the RPs political problems.
In retrospect, we were patently wrong to leave the CPGB without putting up a real fight. Of course, internal democracy was clearly put into question by the PCCs decision to suspend our platforms column in the paper - the charge that we lost our column because we had run out of things to say was arrant nonsense, and the circumstances hardly warranted a suspension of faction rights. But we never raised the issue of internal democracy at an aggregate, and made no attempt to fight for our faction rights once they had been undermined. We abandoned the CPGB to set up yet-another-sect; I was very naive in following other comrades out of the group, a mistake I would attribute to my political inexperience (I was 15 at the time) and personal friendships.
Although the CPGB position on the undemocratic, cross-class and communalist Respect project was - and continues to be - misguided, there was little real political basis for the split. The Red Partys outlook was essentially defined (retrospectively) in reaction to the split, such as equating Leninism with undemocratic organisational practices, and so collapsed into a sort of populist anarchism. It nevertheless involved itself excessively in structures of the dinosaur left it criticised, such as the Socialist Alliance Democracy Platform.
Much was very healthy in the RPs politics - for example, its support for the Iraqi workers movement and antipathy towards the lefts support for clerical fascist anti-imperialists. That said, we never properly discussed and defined what our humanist and libertarian socialist politics really meant.
Being a tiny group with little ongoing campaigning, and equally pushed for resources etc, the Red Party drifted into near-inactivity - at which point I became increasingly interested in the Alliance for Workers Liberty (which I do feel to be a genuine libertarian socialist group) and pushed for us to join. The reluctance and sectarianism of the RP comrades was ridiculous, and not one of them could give any substantiation to their claim that the AWL is not internally democratic.
After a few months of missing out on regular political activity, and the other comrades refusal to consider the AWL, I had no choice but to jump ship.
Jez says that comrades are continuing the RP tradition in their various groups (I notice that he doesnt mention mine!) and cites a website updated once in the last four months as proof of its ongoing tradition. He says he has learnt lessons from the experience. But the only real lesson to draw is that theres no point starting up yet another sect if you can argue your politics and work with comrades within larger democratic organisations - particularly if you have no politics to argue.
In defending his draft programme for the Campaign for a Marxist Party against criticism from Mike Macnair, Phil Sharpe elaborates a strategy of fighting for workers control as a bridge between the present-day struggles of the working class and the realisation of communism.
Nothing could have more effectively verified Phils advocated approach than the crisis embroiling the socialist leadership of the Public and Commercial Services Union that is described in Lee Rocks article in the same issue.
After detailing the attacks from Blairs government that are faced by PCSU members Lee explained thus why his Socialist Caucus (SC) has split from the unions Left Unity group, which is dominated by the Socialist Party: Far from acting as revolutionary socialists, the SP is fearful of adopting radical policies. These comrades have no confidence in their own ability to persuade and lead the membership - they do not even try.
I agree entirely with Lees verdict on the SP and Left Unity. Already grossly disillusioned with the latters failure to take a stand on the involvement of PCSU members in the detention, deportation and driving into destitution of asylum-seekers and other immigrants, the final straw for this writer came on the occasion of the one-day civil service strike on January 31. I and other PCSU members who work in already privatised departments were advised in the union journal to cross the picket lines of our civil service colleagues - some advice from a union led by revolutionary socialists!
SC, under the electoral name, Independent Left, is standing a slate against Left Unity in the unions national executive committee elections that are currently underway. I will vote for this slate. That said, SCs alternative strategy for defeating Blair and Browns all-out war on civil servants is woefully inadequate too.
SCs strategy does nothing to tackle the day-to-day impositions, resulting from the barrage of attacks, upon all those members who have not been selected to take action on full pay, nor does it do anything to build and strengthen self-confidence and self-organisation in the rank and file. In that respect I wonder how it is a socialist strategy at all.
The transitional strategy of workers control, on the other hand, would foster widespread direct resistance to all of the attacks, by challenging management prerogatives.
Workplace action committees would decide which aspects of excessive workloads would not be performed and would arrange the boycotting of work required to facilitate privatisation, and work transferred from closure-threatened offices, such as the Bath pensions centre. As self-organisation and class-consciousness grew, the workplace committees would make links with the struggles of other groups of workers - for instance, those fighting the benefit cuts on the sick and disabled and the turning of the ratchet of oppression on unemployed workers, and those fighting deportations.
We will see civil servants really embarking upon a victory strategy when they refuse to serve the government in attacking other workers.
Taking the PCS
Readers may recall that I argued against Lee Rock and Socialist Caucus splitting the left vote in the PCSU by standing an alternative Independent Left slate to that of the Socialist Party-dominated Left Unity pact with the PCS Democrats (entitled Democracy Alliance) in the current elections for the national executive committee.
I suggested (as my branch then did) endorsing the official Left Unity candidates part, but replacing the PCS Democrats part with 13 of the best of the Independent Left.
That was intended to keep the left in power, give Socialist Caucus supporters their highest ever number of seats and provide the best base from which to challenge Socialist Party domination of the PCSU. In his article in last weeks issue, Lee was pessimistic about the chances of his Independent Left slate displacing the current left-led NEC. The NEC election results will be known on May 8, so we shall all see whose tactic was the more correct.
Lee states that another key issue is the development of correct political strategy in relation to the Labour Party and mentions the motions of a PCS Labour Group (whatever that is) urging the PCSU to support John McDonnells leadership campaign.
I would suggest a better way forward is my motion A45 to the annual conference, which tasks PCSU with looking at how our political fund could be used to support candidates to the left of New Labour (on an agreed minimum platform of defence of the public sector, anti-war, anti-racism) at all member, branch or regional meetings.
Instead of the usual suspects vying for total control of their electoral alternative fronts, lets see who our members might support. It will be interesting to see if the motion gets support from the SP, Scottish Socialist Party, SWP, Solidarity and John McDonnell supporters, given they could all benefit. Or will they be sectarian and unite against it if they cannot guarantee which group will get the most support?
Some of the credit for my suggestions is due to arguments I see in the Weekly Worker on the constant divisions and problems facing the British left. Your publication of articles from people who do not agree with you (unique on the left?) and the replies by your leading writers have really made me think.
Taking the PCS
Chris Knight is euphoric about the demonstrations in support of the Liverpool dockers in the 1990s. He repeatedly extols the successful actions - which usually involved making a noise in the street or some other publicity stunt - but virtually overlooks the fact that the dockers were defeated. The dockers were forced into redundancy or worse conditions. But Chris does not even bother to ask why this happened.
It is easy to see how radicals could bond with trades unionists when they fail to utter a word of criticism of the leadership of the struggle: ie, the shop stewards committee, who never broke from their subordination to the Transport and General Workers Union.
The TGWU was busy seeking deals with employers and took steps to defuse the struggle and isolate the dockers. The shop stewards, many influenced by Stalinism, took on the role of a pressure group lobbying the union for action. The marching and lobbying was aimed at winning public sympathy (MPs, businesses and churches) and turned into a substitute for class solidarity.
It certainly gives internationalism a new meaning when an international conference of dockworkers (February 1996), hailed by radicals at the time as a major step in building solidarity, was scarcely more than a junket for union functionaries who exchanged goodwill messages before returning to their work of selling out their own members back home.
All the efforts of the radical campaigners, left groups and Reclaim the Streets amounted to little more than an alibi for the union leaders who could represent the publicity stunts and drum-beating as a way forward and thus excuse their own role.
The left in general needs to learn lessons from this experience, not just indulge in nostalgia. They are unlikely to do so, as they are too comfortable in their role as cheerleaders for sections of the bureaucracy. This of course had a long tradition in the old CPGB, which the current claimants to the title seem intent on following.
The unions, like the Labour Party, have degenerated and moved to the right, taking much of the left with them. It is now truer than ever that workers need a political way forward. The left groups and drum-beating campaigners are not capable of providing this. The International Communist Party of the day (now the World Socialist Web Site) was vilified at the time for pointing these things out, only to be vindicated by events.
Mike Macnair is on his hobby horse, presenting our arguments as dogmatic Trotskyism, so he can slay us with his theoretical wooden sword. He has spotted me and Gerry Downing quoting sacred texts, no doubt as alchemists of revolution, hatching plots in smoke-filled rooms. Good fun, but it will hardly do as a serious argument.
If Mike wants to criticise quotations from the sacred texts he should deal with actual specific quotations and not quotations in general. Quotations from Marx, Lenin and Trotsky (MLT) prove something and nothing. So it is important to be clear what they do prove and what they dont.
MLT were major theorists and proven revolutionaries. We should give them and their ideas due respect. They speak to us from the grave. I quote them when I think they have particular valid and relevant points, which should inform our practice today. I can, of course, be wrong about this or that example. The mere fact that we quote them doesnt make it right. There are no scared texts.
MLT were human beings, not gods. Some of their arguments were right and some wrong. Some may have been right then, but are not relevant today. From our vantage point we have to assess what was right or wrong, and whether it can inform us now. No quote is therefore correct, or relevant today, simply because it issued from their pens. But equally it doesnt mean it is wrong or irrelevant. It has to be judged in the concrete.
For example, I argued that permanent revolution was the growing over of democratic revolution to the socialist revolution. I am convinced this is a correct understanding of the dialectics of permanent revolution. I quoted Trotsky because he uses this concept. It therefore adds weight to the argument. It doesnt mean it is right simply because he said it. But it does mean you cannot simply dismiss this as of no account.
Mike seems to have come up with a strange argument in defence of left-rightism (Bukharin). The Russian Revolution failed and quotes from Lenin and Trotsky in 1918-20 are likely to be wrong. This would be just as dogmatic as believing everything they said in these years was sacred truth.
So what is the real point behind his accusations that we are theoretical dogmatists armed with sacred MLT texts? It is surely to create a smokescreen for the revival or promotion of Bukharins left-rightism. Mike explains we shouldnt presume that Lenin and Trotsky were right against their adversaries. Perhaps he should tell us which adversaries and what they said. A quote or two from might help to clarify it.
May 6: stop Sarkozy - by voting for the Parti Socialiste candidate, Ségolène Royal. That is the recommendation of the militant French communist website, Prométhée (http://perso.orange.fr/gauchecomm/lettreprom5.htm).
Clearly Peter Manson does not agree with this position, since in his article, Ghosts of 2002, poverty of 2007, he criticises the different far-left and anti-neoliberal forces that have called for a vote for Royal against Nicolas Sarkozy. Taking up the Blair against Thatcher formula of Le Figaro, Peter considers that the decision to vote Blair shows a lamentable lack of imagination on the part of a French left which was not able to unite for the first round of the presidential election.
I agree with comrade Peter on one aspect of the question: the disunity of the French left of the left, which stood five candidates - without counting the Greens and those who preferred to vote PS from the first round - does indeed display a childish, suicidal attitude on the part of a political force which, united, could have attracted 15%-25% of voters and played a key role in these elections.
It could have given electoral voice to the successes enjoyed by the social movement of the working class and youth - forces which saw off Chirac and Sarkozy in the battle against the CPE (inferior contracts for young workers). The left, which also played a major role in defeating Chiracs UMP and the PS at the time of the referendum on the so-called European constitution, has now burst apart, missing the opportunity to become the main opposition force in this country.
However, I completely disagree with Peters position on the second round of the presidential election. Yes, it is necessary to do everything to beat Sarkozy, including voting for Blair. Elections are not a strategic matter for communists, even less a matter of principle. They pose tactical problems. It is not at all certain that today it is possible to stop Sarkozy from entering the Elysée gates. But we have to try, and that is the best tactic.
This virulent representative of the right is for sure not a fascist, but a Bonapartist who wants to take his revenge for May 1968, to use an historic image, and is set on further consolidating the anti-democratic, presidential character of the republican monarchy known as the French Fifth Republic. Sarkozy is a kind of political hybrid - a cross between Margaret Thatcher and George Bush. His programme is for the crushing of trade unionism, youth, what remains of the workers movement and social gains as vital as pensions and health insurance. Internationally it is that of the neo-cons, with the increased participation of French imperialism in the wars and adventures of the most powerful imperialist power. That is why we must stop Sarkozy if it is possible.
Whoever wins, we will have to fight. We will have to bring the scattered forces of the left back together in the battle to establish a genuine Communist Party, which is both a mass and vanguard party. We will have to take on a centre-left government, but it will be a less powerful adversary. What is more, it will be a government elected by default, following the defeat of the hard right.
Get rid of Sarkozy-Thatcher-Berlusconi in order to prepare better conditions for the fight against Blair-Prodi-Royal.
Mike Macnair wrote in response to an exchange between Gerry Downing and Dave Craig: The scientific case for using the writings of Lenin and Trotsky - and of the Comintern more generally - as a guide to action is the success of the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the corresponding failure of the German revolution in 1919. But these are necessarily judgments in hindsight.
No, they are not. They were understood at the time by both Lenin and Trotsky as a vindication of their theory and method. Russia had a Bolshevik Party that armed the workers, peasants and soldiers against the popular front politics of the revisionists and Mensheviks. Germany lacked a Bolshevik leadership to seize the initiative in a revolutionary crisis.
Macnair continues: On the one hand, if the Russian Revolution had ended in defeat in the civil war, or the overthrow of the Bolshevik regime through splits in the Bolshevik Party and the emergence of political representation of the capitalist NEPmen and the employer-farmer kulaks in the 1920s, no-one would judge 1917-18 as anything more than a repeat of the Paris Commune: that is, a premature sketch of the proletarian regime.
Mike is confusing events at different historical periods here. The Bolsheviks won the civil war, but paid the price of a decimated working class and ruined country. It was this price that led directly to the splits in the Bolshevik Party and the rise of Stalin and his Menshevik cohorts to power. The NEPmen and kulaks were smashed, but enough of their class joined the party to bolster Stalins rule. The result was a counterrevolution in the revolution - or its Thermidor, as Trotsky called it.
This was understood scientifically to be the rise of the bureaucracy as a parasitic caste upon the Soviet working class. How has this scientific analysis been altered by hindsight? By the theory of state capitalism?