A to B
Back in 2003 the Stop the War Coalition had two tactics to prevent war in Iraq: marching from A to B and then going home; and marching from B to A and then going home.
Neither of these cunning plans worked, but they seemed so good to Tony Benn, Lindsey German and their friends that it is all the STWC has done to stop the war. This may let them claim the moral high ground, but how many divisions can that muster? Any superiority this might give them has, anyway, been squandered by their adherence to tactics that have failed to achieve their stated objectives. The British state has faced STWC down once and knows it can do so again if, for example, it chooses to partner the United States in an attack on Iran.
Thankfully, not all protestors followed the supine policies of the STWC. School and college students walked out of their institutions, disrupted traffic and showed a willingness to wrestle with the police. When demonstrators travelled to disrupt the Fairford airbase, there was no ‘right’ to demonstrate - only the illegal actions of the police. Clearly, they recognised the threat posed by direct action to the government’s war plans, even if the STWC could not.
Gordon Brown is committed to the neo-conservative project. Those who celebrated Tony Blair’s resignation ought to consider that he handed over at a time of his choice to the successor of his choice who shares his politics. Britain remains in the missionary position and will remain so regardless of whether Bush, McCain, Obama or Clinton is on top. Given this, a militant anti-war movement is as necessary as ever. Sadly, the STWC is as impotent now as five years ago.
To cover up its flaccid nature, the STWC has as many excuses as an incapable lover. Their 2008 pamphlet begins with the following astonishing claim by Viscount Stansgate (Tony Benn): “The Stop the War movement is the most powerful and influential popular political movement of my lifetime and possibly of any period of our history.” If the last five years have been a victory, we would have hated to see a defeat!
A to B
A to B
And the point is
What’s the point of the Campaign for a Marxist Party? The original conception behind the CMP was the idea that there were large numbers of leftwing activists, former members of left groups, who were looking for something to join. This has proved not to be the case.
Another role for the CMP might be to make general Marxist propaganda. But a number of left groups do this already. How is what the CMP can do any different? So far the record is not good. The three issues of Marxist Voice published so far have been very disappointing.
What we need to avoid at all costs is being seen as armchair revolutionaries only interested in abstract discussion. Political debate in the CMP needs to be clearly linked to political activity.
And the point is
And the point is
Alan Johnstone is trying to hide his preference for parliamentary bodies, as opposed to genuine workers’ organisation, by attempting to prove that the Bolsheviks were anti-soviet in practice (Letters, March 6). He’s also still trying to find a line of perfect continuity between Leninism and Stalinism, as if it’s possible to seal politics away from the world in 1903, only to unleash them unmodified in 1917 and perhaps 1936.
Citing Neil Harding, he claims that a “simple reading of actual historic events” highlights Leninism’s supposed credentials as an anti-working class force. Comrade, I have not read the book that you are quoting from - if you can tell me where to get a copy, I will be more than happy to take a look - but it’s easy to see that a “simple reading” of history will dredge up all kinds of things.
A simple reading of history from some sources will show the Paris Communards to be nothing but a bloodthirsty mob. A simple reading of history will show the grassroots militias of republican Spain to be an unruly hodgepodge of plundering bandits. A simple reading of history may show the National Union of Mineworkers during its great strike to have been made up of stubborn, petty-minded thugs, intent on making life as difficult as possible for everyone concerned. In this case, a simple reading of history will show Lenin to be some kind of power-mad lunatic who overthrew ‘democracy’ and intentionally established a state-capitalist dictatorship.
My point is that there is no neutral line to be found in history. History is written by people as part of social classes, and consequently carries with it all the bias, passions and agendas that people carry with them in their day-to-day lives. Frank and honest evidence from the revolutionary camp shows a steady degradation of soviet democracy during the civil war.
Romanticised nonsense from the future bureaucrats of the USSR will show another perspective. Evidence from the distinguished gentlemen who tried to convene a certain constituent assembly on the basis of outdated electoral results show something else altogether.
In the very month of the revolution, Lenin stated: “We have not resorted, and I hope will not resort, to the terrorism of the French revolutionaries who guillotined unarmed men. I hope we shall not resort to it, because we have strength on our side.”
They did indeed have strength. They had the masses of the most politicised nation in the world behind them. They had the strength of a class organised in its own councils, as opposed to a parliament of ‘all classes’ desperately trying to claim legitimacy in defiance of reality. A policy by Bolshevism of intentionally subverting said masses, for whatever outlandish reason, would have been met with disaster.
We know that strength started to ebb as the demoralisation of those masses kept pace with their physical annihilation at the hands of reaction and imperialism during the civil war. Questionable, even outright murderous and counterrevolutionary, steps were then taken to retain power as a party that was fast losing its social base.
On the one hand Jim Moody wants “socialism” for the “Arab masses” , but on the other he defends Arab nationalism and islamism (‘All-Arab solution needed for Palestine’, March 6).
This ambivalence runs throughout the article. It goes along the (familiar) lines: “I am not anti-semitic, but I support Hezbollah and Hamas (funded by Iran and Syria) as ‘anti-imperialists’/‘anti-Zionists’, with a ‘No, but I want to see the destruction of Israel’, and a ‘Yes, but I am a socialist/communist’.
The facts, however, speak otherwise and support a consistent socialist argument. Israel has not recently “invaded” Gaza, though defensive incursions have taken place against Hamas terrorists shooting thousands of rockets into Israel, after the Israeli Defence Forces left Gaza as part of the peace process. Israel is said to be “not primarily concerned” by Qassam rockets landing on towns (false); it is a shoah (read: ‘holocaust’) against Palestinians (a Reuters mistranslation:see media.nationalreview.com, February 29). Israelis, apparently, are being maimed and killed ... but only by Hamas “peashooters”. The IDF is compared to the Nazis and Hamas is a “democratically elected party” (so were/are Nazis and fascists), forgetting their murderous islamist charter which seeks the destruction of Israel and the creation of an islamist state (friends of Mr Galloway/SWP?).
And an “all-Arab” (no, not socialist!) ‘solution’ is the answer for ‘Palestine’ (whose definition?). “Such a force.” we read, “would have no need to fear the Jewish people of Israel” (why be frightened of a nation of Jews, unless they are all killers?). But on the other hand, the ‘all-Arab solution’ (the destruction of Israel) would be led by the Arab masses (working classes?) under Communist Party leadership!
Here we have the terrible ambivalence of this position expressed in terms of Arab nationalism and Marxist jargon, adding up to a confusion which demonstrates the continuing legacy of Stalinism and the degeneration of the left, on the one hand, and the inability of the left to learn from its mistakes and move on from them, on the other. Mr Moody’s messy confusion will enlighten no-one, spread anti-Israel hatred, provide the soil for anti-semitism and the further advance of neo-fascism and reactionary nationalism in Europe.
Mr Moody’s ambivalence, shared by many on the left, conveniently shields a sympathy for Arab nationalism and reactionary islamist parties precisely because of his hatred of Israel. That seems, lamentably, to be the nub of the issue. But more than ever, we don’t need hatred of one side and an ‘all-Arab solution’, but a two-state solution and democratic socialism.
James Turley in his article ‘Politicising the Olympics?’ says: “We wish to see many more such gestures interrupt the orgies of chauvinistic self-congratulation that abound in international sporting competition” (February 21).
But surely we need more than gestures? The left needs a programme for sport that takes back an activity where the few get paid millions and the rest very little. For example, footballer Michael Owen gets paid over £100,000 per week, which takes several years for the lowest paid to earn. How can there be any empathy from the stands for these so-called ‘superstars’?
Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore said of his proposal to extend the season to 39 games: “When the league does well, other people in the football family do well in terms of redistribution. We feel it is a very positive thing.” The Premier League has got very rich on the commercialisation of the game, but it was not a very positive thing for one of the most talented and iconic footballers of recent times, Paul Gascoigne, who was sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
Football should be taken out of the hands of multi-millionaires and handed back to the true fans. Those who turn up to watch their team every week, year on year, get fleeced by the ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ oligarchs, who hire and fire managers as they seek instant success. Their only motivation is to use football to sell the products for which they bought the team and salivate at the increasing revenues from TV rights. Only those who can afford a satellite dish are not confined to the decreasing and impoverished sport that is served up on terrestrial television. The right to participate in and watch sport, whatever income someone earns, in any arena and without discrimination should be available to everyone, not the few.
Phil Kent writes: “Michael Little is wrong to accuse me of ‘telling the working class that we support religious fundamentalism’ because I argued that the Turkish law forcing muslims not to wear the hijab inside state institutions should be abolished” (Letters, February 28).
Unless I’m in need of glasses, I see nowhere in my letter that I accused Phil of supporting Turkey’s fundamentalism. What I did say was: “We are no defenders of islam, or any other religion for that matter, and we know that bourgeois legislators pass restrictive legislation such as banning the wearing of headscarves in order to oppress minorities. We also know that it’s only a short hop, skip and jump from banning headscarves to banning red flags. However, to come to the defence of individuals who demand to be allowed to wear religious trappings in public schools would indeed be a serious mistake, as we would be telling the working class that we support religious fundamentalism, which we do not” (Letters, February 21).
My letter pointed out the dangers associated with calling upon the bourgeois state to ban the display of headscarves in school. But that doesn’t mean we should jump to the defence of those who become ensnared by such anti-theocratic legislation.
Now if this legislation had been directed solely at islam that would be a different matter, for this would be targeting a specific group of people, but this law addresses the display of religious icons by anyone regardless of their religion. Barring legislation directed against a specific religion, I see nothing wrong with our abstaining on the issue.
Contrary to Phil’s simplistic view that religion is rooted in the “alienation ... produced by capitalism and class society”, religion is rooted in the nuclear family, the basic building block of capitalism, and is nurtured by the sense of powerlessness to alter events. The achievement of state, social and political power by the working class will lay the framework for the rejection of religion (useless toys in the attic), as the nuclear family is gradually replaced by something much higher and based upon collectivised property relations.
One of the first tasks of the Bolsheviks following the revolution was to berate religion before the ears of the school children so as to drive a wedge between them and the family (the memory bank of counterrevolution).
Jack Conrad is to be congratulated for finding my ideas important enough to criticise, but, unfortunately, the final result makes a damp squib look rather lively in comparison (‘Marxist thinking and Newtonian parallels’, March 6).
A few errors: I am not and never have been a Popperian. Had comrade Conrad read my essays with due care and attention, he would not have made that mistake. Nor am I a positivist and my arguments owe nothing whatsoever to Hume. Moreover, the vast bulk of my ideas cannot be found in anyone else’s work (despite what the comrade says), and I challenge Conrad to show otherwise.
I will not detain the reader with a lengthy reply; I will merely note that I was genuinely shocked that a leading comrade could write such a superficial and badly researched article - 99.9% of what I have to say in my essays (and much of what was published in my Weekly Worker article) was just ignored. Fair enough - no-one has to read my work - but may I suggest that comrade Conrad refrains from passing knee-jerk remarks about my ideas without actually having read my essays.
Also, although I am a supporter of the SWP, it needs to be added that my opinions are my own, and do not in any way reflect the views of the SWP.
Finally, comrades will find a detailed reply to Jack Conrad at my site: homepage.ntlworld.com/rosa.l/Conrad_Heart_Of_Darkness.htm.
I really must ask, does anyone really read the drivelling nonsense that passes for Jack Conrad’s philosophy? I haven’t been subject to such bilge since I was a teaching assistant forced to read undergraduate musings on Kant.
Conrad stumbles blindly, most likely delirious with self-importance, knocking words off shelves and dropping names (whose writings, I’d wager, he’s never cracked open) and gibbering like a child.
Does he hold a position of any importance in your outfit? If he does then perhaps you should reconsider it.
After your latest onslaught on SWP-Respect (‘SWP Left List fiasco’, March 6), the question has once again to be asked - who are you backing for London mayor and which list would you vote for?
Do you believe that Livingstone and New Labour, with their neoliberal economic policy and adulation for Sir Ian Blair, should go unchallenged on the left? Or should we vote Green on the grounds that Siân Berry is the most leftwing of what the Evening Standard calls “the main candidates” and ignore the record of their sitting Greater London members - Jenny Jones’ endorsement of the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes by the Met or Darren Johnson’s frequent collusion with New Labour neoliberal antics in Lewisham (in such contrast to the principled record of the two Socialist Party councillors in that borough)?
Or is it Galloway’s mythical ‘progressive list’ you are rooting for, since, far from the Left List being “an ongoing vendetta against George Galloway”, as you suggest in your sycophantic salute (possibly aimed at getting a donation for a new printing machine), it was the Gallowayites’ vindictive and petulant decision to withdraw their candidates from the original Respect list for London, back Livingstone for mayor and attempt to concoct a rival list of their own that was the real stab in the back?
Or should we back the CPB’s Stalinist unity list? Or are you advocating abstention (sorry, an “active boycott”, as you lot prefer to call it)?
The Left List may not be perfect, but it is the best option we have and on issues such as housing, transport and the police, it offers a leftwing alternative for London. The GLA election is not, as I assume you think, a referendum on the errors of the Rees-German leadership of the SWP or a debate about our attitude to Hezbollah, Hamas, the Taliban or Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (all SWP heroes for whom I have little or no sympathy), but a chance to say we don’t want a privatised East London line; we don’t want most ticket offices closed on the tube; we want more council housing, not office blocks; we want sports fields for east London children, not an Olympic extravaganza; we don’t want the police shooting innocent Brazilians in Stockwell or innocent Bengalis in Forest Gate; and we want to offer disillusioned former Labour voters from the white working class in Barking and elsewhere some alternative to the BNP.
I have many criticisms of the SWP, largely around the lack of democracy and open discussion and debate. It is necessary to look at failings as well as successes. However, I find photos of Lindsey German alongside the caption ‘no-hoper’ distasteful and unproductive.
This woman works incredibly hard to spread ideas not so disparate from the CPGB’s, and does not deserve to be vilified in this manner. While criticism is needed, if the CPGB wishes to build its membership, it needs to look wider than squabbles within the left, which most people don’t have a clue about.
My concern is that, week in, week out, you constantly attack the SWP for toe-curlingly embarrassing mistakes but, at the end of the day, the CPGB would be making just as many in a different situation - democratic centralism and the Leninist tradition lends itself to such pompous flatulence.
The SWP lurches from disaster to disaster because they still have members (rightly) eager to see the end of the barbarity of capital. Tragically, they are prepared to swallow their doubts and put their shoulders to the wheel. But it’s time they realised that out of the wreckage of 20th century Marxism we can only rescue one thing: the utter disgust at work in all its forms.
I suggest the Weekly Worker ignore the morons in the SWP for the merry month of May at least. Give your readers a holiday! Instead run a 52-part special retrospective on ‘How the Situationist International set the spark for May 1968’. It would certainly make a refreshing change to all that laborious ‘up the workers’ stuff that you churn out, week in, week out. After all, wasn’t it Marx who said the proletariat has to abolish itself? Make no mistake - without going beyond the critique of so called ‘workplace struggles’ the entire left simply helps to keep the chickens locked up in the coop.
People aren’t so daft as to understand that work is the prison that keeps us locked in, and that work itself needs to be abolished - in its entirety. In 2008 the order-takers and the order-givers are victims of a totalitarian labour economy. Nuclear power and environmental collapse make every human being a prisoner of the system. People certainly don’t need spoon-feeding about ‘stages’ on the road to ‘struggle’ (I am sure the Weekly Worker doesn’t need to be reminded of the need to exorcise that old Stalinist hobgoblin?).
Henri Lefebvre chided the situationists in 1967 for believing that a festival of life could transform social relations. He apologised for his conservatism in the aftermath of May 1968. Only the situationists and a few others were able to see beyond the old left shibboleths of ‘struggle’, ‘duty’ and martyrdom. They recognised the importance of everyday life and helped unleash human passions in a poetic way. It spread like wildfire in May 1968, and took everyone by surprise - not least the orthodox Leninist stiffs.
We urge all your readers to look out for Principia Dialectica’s critique of May 1968 in 2008 - part written by a translator of the French edition of Moishe Postone’s book Time labour and social domination (1993). This is a book well worth studying. It doesn’t deal in the utopian dreams of ‘workers’ councils’ and other hangovers of 1917, but instead is firmly rooted in the day-to-day reality of 2008.
Postone was a student of Marcuse and writes in the best tradition of western Marxism. Refreshingly, and, sorry to say, unlike their Anglo-Saxon counterparts, the French Communist Party were ahead of the game and published an interesting review of his book a little while ago. The PCF acknowledged that Postone is one of the few theorists who seriously attempts to grapple with the world situation post-1989.
In his article ‘No alternative to reformism’ (March 6), Dave Vincent noted: “Once again I found myself thinking that you really cannot be a good trade union activist fighting to defend your members against attacks by a Labour government and yet urge members to vote Labour at every election! You cannot properly defend your members against the attacks made on them if you are also devoting your energies to keeping the assailants in power.” He also drew the logical conclusion about opposing union funding for Labour.
I agree absolutely and it was encouraging to see this viewpoint being expressed in the paper! This, of course, pinpoints the dilemma too facing all those other comrades who still hold the position of supporting Labour electorally, no matter how ‘critical’ their support.
Here in New Zealand, only a minority of unions are still affiliated to Labour and these unions only comprise a minority of the organised working class. The overwhelming majority of workers in unions which are affiliated play no role whatsoever in Labour. In terms of social composition, the LP is predominantly middle class. Even the days when its candidates served an apprenticeship in the union bureaucracy are gone, with only a tiny minority of NZ Labour MPs now arriving in parliament through that route. Far more are academics, managers, lawyers and so on (and, these days, fewer and fewer union leaders come off the factory floor anyway).
Moreover, the vast majority of workers now are not unionised. In other words, the working class as a class has no ‘organic’ relationship with Labour at all. Yet, oddly, we still have Marxists down here who speak of some ‘organic’ link between the liberal-capitalist Labour Party and the working class via the unions.
When it comes to funding, the NZ Labour Party is overwhelmingly funded out of the public purse and its next major source of funds is business. The donations which a few unions make are certainly large for those unions, but tiny in terms of the contributions received from business interests, let alone the state. The simple reality is that the major ‘organic’ links which the NZ Labour has today are with the state and business. In effect, the unions which do make donations to Labour merely fritter away money by ‘topping up’ the far larger contributions the Labourites receive from the capitalist class.
I realise that the situation in Britain differs somewhat from New Zealand, in that substantially more unions there are still formally affiliated to Labour. However, this is a bureaucratic mechanism; it doesn’t actually involve any significant organic link between ordinary workers and the LP or imply any kind of mass working class involvement in, or engagement with, Labour. In fact, Labour Parties these days, whether in New Zealand, Australia or Britain, depend on sidelining the working class and hegemonising the middle class.
Dave Vincent suggests: “Didn’t Labour’s entire history ... prove the impossibility of the parliamentary road to socialism?”
The originally Marxist social democratic parties had in addition to the ‘maximum’ programme of socialism what they called a ‘minimum programme’ of immediate reforms to capitalism. What happened is that they attracted votes on the basis of their minimum, not their maximum, programme - ie, reformist votes - and so became the prisoners of these voters. In parliament, and later in office, they found themselves with no freedom of action other than to compromise with capitalism.
It was not a case of being corrupted by the mere fact of going into national parliaments, but was due to the basis on which they went there and how this restricted what they could do. In short, it is not power as such that corrupts. It is power obtained on the basis of followers voting for leaders to implement reforms that, if you want to put it that way, ‘corrupts’.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain advocates only socialism and nothing but socialism - the so-called ‘maximum programme’. That is the revolutionary alternative.
Andrew Northall is misguided if he thinks the Green Party - or environmentalism, for that matter - offers any hope for humanity (Letters, March 6). In fact, capitalism and environmentalism are two sides of the same coin. That is to say, environmentalism is the ideology adopted by capitalists in their retreat from production.
A new book by James Heartfield explains this in depth. Green capitalism: manufacturing scarcity in an age of abundance shows how capitalists view the production process as messy and something to be escaped from. They hark for money that begets money without having to get their hands dirty at the mill, and so they go for speculation and selling off assets. When the dot-com bubble burst and ideas of the ‘knowledge economy’, where we could apparently ‘live off thin air’, collapsed, New Labour and big business suddenly became green, as this expressed their contempt for production and mass consumption more fully.
In calling for all of us to ‘reduce our carbon footprints’, the elite are saying we should all make do with less - hence Gordon Brown’s wage restraints for all. New legal frameworks and a green morality which has been bolstered by various UN conferences and committees have allowed capitalism in this late stage to engineer scarcity. An example of the new scarcity is the housing situation, where prices of houses are now so inflated, they are beyond many people’s reach. This enriches the privileged few at the expense of the working class. Mass consumption is a nightmare for the elite - how dare we enjoy the same things as them? - and this is projected in the doom-mongering of climate chaos theories. The issue of global warming should only be one of whether humans can prosper in a warmer climate, but the official view is that we are all doomed unless the greedy masses can be curtailed.