Robots are us
Jack Conrad, in his article, Frederick Engels and natures dialectic, quotes Norman Levine: Engels materialism was a cold, unremitting and remorseless system. Men had little impact on fashioning the course of development of history and nature. Rather than being the subject of history, men were basically passive objects of unrelenting external forces Engels materialism was mechanistic (Weekly Worker August 30).
Conrad calls this daft, but I couldnt have summed up dialectical materialism better myself. The problem is not so much with dialectics as with materialism. If everything is the result of material conditions there is no scope for free will. I am unconvinced that there is a god (maybe there once was), but I do think that humans (and other animals and birds) have some sort of soul. Engels would be describing a world of robots.
A problem with Anti-Dühring that Conrad does not mention is the preponderance of mistakes. The most blatant of these is the example of the negation of the negation in which 2 goes to -2 and then back to 2 again. Negation of the negation is best explained as history repeats itself at a higher level and there is no higher level in this mathematical example. Engels could not have been unaware of this anomaly.
Robots are us
Robots are us
In reference to Jack Conrads article, Frederick Engels and natures dialectic, Rosa Lichtenstein says: My attack constitutes a far, far more serious assault on this Hermetic theory than any other that has been launched against it (including the few you mention) in the entire history of our movement. Dont believe me? Then you are in for a big surprise. To date, no-one has been able to argue successfully against my criticisms (Letters, September 6).
The big question is, does anyone out there care what Rosa thinks?
The report on the last session at Communist University on the Russian Revolution was inaccurate (One of our very best, August 30).
My contribution was about the importance of permanent revolution in Marxs theory of the transition from capitalism to communism. I argued that the Russian Revolution was the most important example of revolutionary working class struggle we have. It provided a testing ground for permanent revolution, enabling us to update the theory.
The Russian democratic revolution began in February 1917 and continued through the October uprising and civil war until its end in March 1921. I also argued that an international socialist revolution was beginning to develop in 1919, when soviet power existed momentarily in Russian, Hungary and Bavaria.
The counterrevolution in Russia gained momentum with the crushing of the Kronstadt soviet in March 1921. The revolution drowned itself in its own blood. Communists have to come to terms with this unpalatable truth if we are to establish a new communist politics. The counterrevolution has a blood line from Kronstadt 1921 to Budapest 1956.
Stalino-Trotskyism sees Kronstadt as a choice between sending the tanks in or catching a train out - between tankies and liberals. In a contribution from the floor, however, comrade Simon Pirani provided evidence from his researches in Russia about the degeneration of democracy and working class power in the factories in 1921.
Unfortunately your report has me discussing the party question (which I am sure I did not) and you claim that comrade Freeman made his usual call for a halfway house party, which I did not. Mark Fischer spoke against halfway house parties. It was Boris Kagarlitsky who argued against Mark that halfway house parties would be a step forward in some conditions, if they really took us halfway to where we wanted to be.
It was a very sensible point and one I have made before - but only about Britain today, and not about Russia in 1917. The reporter was wrong to say I made my usual call.
Idiots and oafs
Leaders of the Alliance for Workers Liberty and the Communist Party of Great Britain are verbally insulting one another (twerp, idiots, oaf, etc). Past experience indicates that name-calling is often the prelude to physical violence.
How as Marxists do we understand this? Superficially, the leaders differ over policy. CPGB leaders argue for troops out of the Middle East. AWL leaders argue for solidarity with Iraqi workers and their trade unions. As Jim Moody has shown, this is a false antagonism (Maintaining disorder, August 30). It is as essential to organise solidarity with Iraqi workers as it is to campaign against the occupation. If Moody is right there is no objective grounds for the dispute.
At another level, mutual animosity is generated by fears of being mistaken, anger at being denounced (or falsely characterised) and frustration that honest communication between revolutionaries is impossible. The result is embarrassing. The crisis of proletarian leadership manifests itself as playground petulance. The taunts of bullies masquerade as discussion and debate.
The leaders of both groups see themselves as the defenders of the legacy of the Bolsheviks. Sadly they seem unaware of how Stalinism has distorted this. The resistance against the policing of workers by Stalinist parties worldwide created groups that reproduced an atomised consciousness and prevented workers from gaining an understanding of Marxism. Loyalty to the line of the group enabled the group to survive, but also meant that the individuals were forced to alienate their judgement to an elite of full- or part-time professionals. These leaders had the power to suppress dissent and difference.
Professional leaders depend for subsidence on the income a group generates through the sale of literature, donations and membership fees. Self-interest motivates them to think of rival groups as enemies who are competing for members.
Objective economic insecurity can cause subjective personal distress and anxiety. Leaders hope that weaker groups will disintegrate when attacked. In a process analogous to natural selection, the fittest group is supposed to survive and grow by dominating and destroying competitors.
Leaders trapped within this predatory model of organisation are blind to the harmful effects it might have on workers. For many observers the hubris it generates is unattractive and demoralising. Leaders seem to forget that as Marxists they have a responsibility to create a safe environment within which workers can become intellectuals through study and the free expression of differences (including making mistakes).
Perhaps some people find the use of invective amusing. It is an entertaining distraction from trying to think clearly around the difficult questions. For example, is it possible to create revolutionary trade unions that are conscious of the need to overthrow capitalism or are trade unions forever vehicles for state and capitalist control over workers? Can workers and their trade unions in the Middle East move away from religious and secular forms of nationalism towards consciousness of a socialist alternative?
Hopefully, once an effective campaign for a Marxist party comes into being, questions such as these can be raised in a climate free from fear, hatred and mistrust.
Idiots and oafs
Idiots and oafs
Time to go
The recent umpteenth dispute between the AWL and the CPGB raises more questions than it answers.
The AWL misleadership seems not to have matured. Why do people like David Broder bother with them? He chose to join the AWL and can choose to leave. Such individuals are fooling themselves if they if they believe valuable contributions to the revolution are being made.
David Broder and people who think like him ought to reconsider membership of the AWL and seriously consider joining the Campaign for a Marxist Party instead.
Time to go
Time to go
State of play
I found Mike Macnairs Spontaneity and Marxist theory article very provocative - in a good way (September 6).
For example, it never occurred to me that soviet governance, local or national, based on factory delegates, or, as US Socialist Labour Party leader Daniel De Leon would say, occupational representation, would ipso facto disenfranchise about half the population: non-workplace women, not to mention disabled, unemployed, etc. One could see, certainly, housewives committees being formed and demanding representation on various soviet bodies, but Mikes point is still well taken.
One smaller point: he raises the US Socialist Workers Partys workers and farmers government theory as part of the SWPs abandonment in the 1980s of its earlier Trotskyism.
I would disagree wholeheartedly with this assessment. The development of the worker and farmer/peasant government goes back to an earlier period in SWP history. They take as their starting point the Cominterns own what if? scenarios of different forms of workers government and the dictatorship of the proletariat. In the 1930s their popular call for workers dictatorship was For a workers and farmers government.
But the real discussion got started after World War II and into the early 1960s. Various contending forms and content were given over during this discussion to talk about radical-democratic regimes that in fact implemented, or could implement, radical nationalisations, use forms of workers democracy and, as a consequence, effectively remove the capitalist government and replace it with one of the mobilised masses - of the working class but not yet having moved to actual economic disenfranchisement.
In other words, the equivalent of the period between October 1917 and the actual nationalisations of industry, formally, in the summer of 1918. Or the revolutionary seizure of power in Cuba by the July 26 Movement in January 1959, but before the nationalisation of industry and the declaration of the socialist character of the revolution in August 1961.
The idea that the SWP was developing, especially after the post-World War II upsurges and the Chinese and Vietnamese revolutions, was that there is a strong distinction between government and state. They are mutually related but can function differently in terms of their relationship with the working class or even if the working class rules.
So you could have, for example, a workers state that existed in Russia in 1992 but effectively led by a capitalist government, where the government becomes the instrument to overturn the actual state (to the degree that it was a proletarian state, however degenerated). Or, inversely, you could have a revolutionary government intent on total mobilisation of the working class, where all elected and administrative positions were in the hands of the workers, but the underlying state structure was still wedded to a bourgeois constitution, judiciary and private property forms.
The SWP put out a fine information bulletin on this subject as part of the Education for socialists series back in the 1970s. It would be worth a read.
State of play
State of play
Hard as steel
In Wanted - working class morality (September 6), Eddie Ford berates teetotal ethical socialism. Yet it was not only the christians of the Independent Labour Party or Fabians like Shaw who were teetotal. Marxists such as Socialist Labour Party member Bob Stewart, who spent many years in prison for opposing World War I, formed the Socialist Prohibition Fellowship, which joined the Communist Party at its birth.
They had seen the devastation that alcoholism had created in working class families and communities. As against the wretched, selfish, self-destructive, grasp and grab, myopic, individualist morality of capitalism, they fought for a true working class morality based on solidarity, mutual aid and sobriety.
The working class in general and working class youth in particular are alienated. But how is that alienation expressed? In making life a misery for ones fellow wage-slaves or in fighting to destroy the system out of which alienation springs? Eddie is right: we have the task of providing an alternative vision of society and the world.
What is needed is a disciplined, uniformed youth movement that will act as a proletarian self-defence force and defend working class communities against lumpen anti-social scum, criminals, drug pushers and fascists. It will arm the youth with a vision of how the world might be when power is in the hands of the working class. It would teach them self-discipline, the basis of a future Red Army. It could occupy empty buildings to provide facilities, both cultural and political, for young people.
In the flats where I live the lifts are soaked in urine, the product of boozing by the stupid and selfish, every Monday morning. Violence fuelled by cheap and nasty drink is all too common. Neither the police nor the landlord (the local authority) are interested. For them people who live in council housing are sub-humans. A proletarian youth movement would find those who do this and warn them to stop it and seek treatment for their afflictions or face harsh justice.
From the small shopkeeper who sells six cans of strong lager for a fiver to the big manufacturers of alcohol, capitalists dont give a damn for working people. Their sole interest is profit. What is needed is a movement as hard as steel which will smash for ever this rotten system and build a new world where the working class looks after its own.
Hard as steel
Hard as steel
Following on from Mark Fischers critique of Sean Matgamnas banal anti-CPGB polemic (Coming home to roost, August 30), it seems as if Sean prefers the method of original sin to anything resembling a Marxist critique.
I have recently been putting the finishing touches to a pamphlet exploring the official CPGBs various revolutionary oppositions from the 1960s (it will be available later this month/early October) and I deal with The Leninist group (the forerunner of todays CPGB), when it was a faction in the now defunct party. The reality of this group is that it began to junk large chunks of Stalinism right from its first publications, utilising what was in all but name a Trotskyist standpoint to dissect the opportunism of the official party.
A common form of abuse from its Stalinist opponents in CPGB factions around Straight Left and the Morning Star was that The Leninist was Trotskyite. This developing critique existed uneasily alongside the detritus of a more traditional left Stalinism (in relation to events such as Czechoslovakia 1968 and Hungary 1956, for example) and the occasional use of official communist tropes (comrade Brezhnev and so on). In other words, it was in movement away from its roots.
The reality is that nearly all the items on Seans bullet-pointed list of Stalinist heresies had been junked by the end of the 1980s, never mind by the end of the 1990s, when the last few CPGB comrades who had Stalinoid lines (albeit on a limited number of issues) had departed after long being in a tiny minority.
Obviously I can provide quotes for all this but more revealing is a letter that one Clive Bradley of Socialist Organiser wrote to The Leninist (May 1985), where SO (unless comrade Bradley had some sort of political breakdown at the time) identified The Leninists positive evolution: I am writing to you on behalf of Socialist Organiser. We have been reading your paper with some interest and feel that on some issues - the general strike, rank and file movement, popular frontism - we have a broad area of agreement.
So, more than 22 years ago, what was to become the Alliance for Workers Liberty had recognised The Leninists positive movement away from Stalinism. But Sean says that the CPGB were unashamed ultra-Stalinists until the collapse of the USSR, a view apparently not shared by his group of the time (judging by this letter). But if this letter was an aberration on comrade Bradleys part, what the bloody hell was SO doing chatting up these unashamed ultra-Stalinists?
Trotsky once observed that a concept is not a closed circle, but a loop, one end of which moves into the past, the other - into the future (Trotskys notebooks 1933-35 p78). Sean Matgamnas concept of the CPGB as epitomising some sort of original sin (Once a Stalinist, always a Stalinist) miserably fails. We analyse phenomena in movement and contradiction or we dont analyse them at all.