I want to correct a statement that appeared as a result of the unfortunate editing of my article, ‘An apologist’s apologist’ (April 3).
Comrade Liam Mac Uaid had not posted “two items on this second site, Stroppyblog, since the Abbott motion had featured there”. He had in fact posted them on his own blog. Since I wrote the article, a link to Diane Abbott’s early day motion on Mehdi Kazemi has appeared on his blog, but comrade Mac Uaid has yet to comment.
In response to Alan Morgan’s article, Liam Mac Uaid is just plain wrong to state “there is nothing in the Iranian penal code to say [being gay is] a hanging offence”.
If the comrade actually read the Iranian criminal code, readily available online from a range of different sources, he would find that, following its modification in early 1990, articles 108 to 140 stipulate crimes for same-sex activity for both men and women.
These crimes include those of lavat, identified as “sexual intercourse with a male”. This offence is punishable by lashes the first three times it is committed, while the fourth time the punishment is stipulated as death. The criminalisation of same-sex acts is not limited to sodomy; the penal code stipulates crimes for other homosexual acts, also punishable by execution. Nor are these punishments confined to gay men: lesbianism is also articulated as the subject of punishment within the penal code, with an identical punishment.
Comrade Mac Uaid’s comments say a far greater amount about his pathetic apologia for the Iranian regime than they do about its attitude towards persecuted gay men and lesbian women.
Sometimes it is difficult to credit certain people’s inability to read intelligently what other people write. Nowhere in my review of Jack Conrad’s Fantastic reality did I suggest that knowledge of islam is to be derived from hadith only, as Steve Davies claims (Letters, April 3). The Qu’ran is clearly essential as well: my point was that adequate appreciation of the religion was not possible without considering interpretations of the Qu’ran and without the additional sources provided by hadith.
Likewise I nowhere suggested that the shia law school was not different from the sunni ones - merely that there was an overlap: if such overlap does not exist then perhaps Steve Davies will have the goodness to explain why.
Thirdly I certainly did not applaud the works of Cook and Crone. How could I, not having read them? What I was applauding was the attempt (however flawed it might be) to bring scholars’ methods to bear on these topics, and Jack Conrad’s efforts to give at least some sort of introduction to the material.
Instead of excommunicating us all, bell, book and candle, I would invite Steve Davies to supply “further and better particulars of claim”, as the lawyers say. Bob Potter’s piece in the same issue of the Weekly Worker is a good example of the appropriate response. If the left is ignorant - as is, alas, often the case - then surely one’s duty is to enlighten it.
How ironic that the British government should seek to attack the undesirable Robert Mugabe in a loud publicity campaign, which has probably been thought up in the run-up to the local elections and designed to draw attention away from the one million people murdered and five million children orphaned by UK foreign policy in Iraq.
If people looked beyond the immediate allegations of ‘vote rigging’, ‘thuggery’ and Zimbabwe’s ‘lack of democracy’, then they might discover that Mugabe also has a secret stockpile of weapons, which can be launched against his neighbours within 45 minutes and that members of the Zanu-PF party have also been responsible for throwing babies out of incubators in Kuwait.
It also wouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that members of the British parliament have been secretly smuggled into Zimbabwe, where they have seen machines used to mincemeat members of the opposition, or been shown and told about mass graves that have been exhumed after years, only to find people’s personal details perfectly intact and on their person.
It has been almost a year since teenage girl Du’a Khalil was stoned to death by a baying mob in Iraqi Kurdistan. The 17-year-old’s ‘crime’ was to have fallen in love with a boy outside the yazidi religion. Betrayed by her family, she was dragged to a summary execution in the centre of Bashiqa city where a 2,000-strong mob, including her relatives, cheered as they hurled rocks.
When footage of the barbaric killing was broadcast, people around the world were shocked. It happened on April 7 2007, but a year later the situation is even more dangerous for the women and girls of Iraq.
Thousands more, from Basra to Baghdad and through to Kurdistan, have become victims of murder, violence and rape - all backed by laws, tribal customs and religious rules. Each day there are reports of women or girls being murdered by their relatives in the name of ‘honour’. More than ever they are subject to daily humiliations, forced into marriages, sometimes as children, suffering female genital mutilation and being driven to suicide.
In Basra just removing a veil can cost a woman her life. Iraqi police report at least 15 women are murdered every month for breaching islamic dress code.
Meanwhile, sharia law is being used to underpin government rule, denying women their most basic human rights. Du’a was a victim of religious bigotry. According to the yazidi faith, she was only allowed to marry within her own religion and tribe. When it emerged that the boy she’d been dating wasn’t a yazidi, it spelled her death.
But despite extensive evidence, including the boasts of many involved in her stoning, Du’a’s killers have not been brought to justice. Police were among the crowd and there have been accusations of the law turning a blind eye. In a society where men are encouraged to claim ownership of women, crimes like this are becoming the norm.
This brutality must stop. This can only be achieved through your support in a struggle for unconditional equality and freedom for these women and girls. Religion is a personal choice and should never be allowed to override our rights and liberties. We must stand up against those who want to subjugate our lives, education and political choices to their religious bigotries.
We will not budge. We will continue to mobilise public opinion against the murder of women and girls in the name of ‘honour’. We will struggle for the creation of a movement to separate religion from the state and its laws, and for women’s rights.
The horrific crime of honour killings and the stoning of women is a crime we must all denounce. It must be consigned to the past.
Hillel Ticktin, incredibly, states that “a return to Keynesianism is on the cards” (‘Financial turmoil heralds return to Keynesianism’, April 3).
Surely that policy - spending money in the public sector to keep the economy growing - has been pursued by Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown for several years! Brown started off as ‘prudent’, and reduced government debt a little, but borrowing has escalated since, even during a boom when there would normally be a surplus. Government debt in the last financial year was around £40 billion, excluding PFI/PPP deals and the money lent to Northern Rock. Money spent on the national health service has continually increased faster than the rate of inflation, for example.
Ticktin doesn’t want to talk about a crisis of capitalism because the ruling class is not “actually threatened by the working class”. New Labour is trying to swindle public sector workers with three-year pay deals, knowing that real inflation (particularly food and fuel prices) is rising and set to soar. Nurses are now being offered 8% over three years with 2.75% immediately. Union leaders are unsurprisingly capitulating, but the left is aiding the swindle by just complaining about the low level of pay offers compared with real inflation now, rather than warning of it soaring in the future.
Thanks to Robbie Rix for including my quote in the latest edition of the Weekly Worker. However, there is one minor correction - I am the treasurer of Hopi and not the Labour Representation Committee (the LRC treasurer is one Graham Bash).
Commenting on my statement (Letters, March 13) that the Bolsheviks “berated religion before the ears of school children in an attempt to drive a wedge between them and the family (the memory bank of counterrevolution)”, Connaire Kensit writes: “But will working class parents, without whose support a proletarian revolution can’t happen, like having wedges driven between them and their kids?” (Letters, April 3).
Myopic Connaire overlooks the fact that revolutionaries are very much aware of the social backwardness of the family (as an institution) and have absolutely no fear that religion will be used to drive a wedge between them and their children - revolutionaries have long since abandoned their family fetishes. What Connaire overlooks is that revolution changes people - in a dialectical way. It is a quantum leap in consciousness. (I should have said just ‘the family’ because the “nuclear family”, as Connaire correctly points out, scarcely holds a monopoly on social backwardness.)
At one point Connaire’s social democratic world view spews out ad nauseam: “Wouldn’t it be better tactics for the revolutionaries to allow organisations such as the National Secular Society (to which I belong) to berate and mock religion independent of the (new) government, whose policy would be to establish a ‘level playing field’ between the faiths and atheism?”
The dictatorship of the proletariat is not about the government acting as a neutral arbitrator between competing class world views. In a capitalist society, because the ruling class is in the minority - the capitalist class - the government (and the state) must pretend to be class-neutral. As a workers’ state represents the ruling class that is in the majority - the working class - we would not need to obscure the undeniable fact that the working class rules, even over backward elements of the working class that refuse to let go of the old way.
We fully intend to educate the children in a manner reflecting the class interests of the proletariat.
Comrade Yassamine Mather has pointed out an ambiguity in my article on the fighting in Basra which is of considerable political importance: that is, that the article can be read as suggesting that Muqtada al Sadr/Jaish Mahdi might be an Iranian client (‘Basra shows anti-occupation momentum is growing’, April 3).
In particular I wrote: “It may well be that Jaish Mahdi has taken resources from the Iranians (though, given the extent to which money and military material can ‘disappear’ in occupied Iraq, they may not need to). But even if so, the idea that after the last 17 years of US blockade and air raids against Iraq, and five years of disastrous occupation, the US or its immediate clients could pose as Iraqi patriots and defenders of Iraqi sovereignty is frankly ludicrous.”
In writing the article I certainly did not intend to suggest that al Sadr as an individual or Jaish Mahdi as an organisation were Iranian clients. I should note, however, that there was more of the same undesirable ambiguity in my March 13 article on the Iraq war in general (‘Bringer of death, destruction and disorganisation’), where I wrote: “The ‘surge’ was heavily spun as being aimed at Jaish Mahdi, and its initiation had been accompanied by strong sabre-rattling against Iran. This had the effect of pushing the Sadrists, who were historically suspicious of Iran, more into the Iranian camp, where US (indirect) diplomacy with Iran could exercise more control of them.”
In fact, it is perfectly clear in the first place that Iran’s clients in Iraq are the ISCI-Dawa coalition ‘government’ headed by Nouri al-Maliki. That was reflected in the statements made in connection with Ahmadinejad’s March visit to Baghdad. Secondly, Sadr has recently reiterated his criticisms of Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs (ie, Iranian support for the US invasion and occupation and for the Maliki ‘government’) in a March 31 interview on al-Jazeera. Comrade Mather translates from a Farsi website where al Sadr said: “in my last visit to Khamenei I advised him - no, I reminded him - that I do not agree with Iran’s political and military aims and Iran must end this interference in the affairs of Iraq” (www.iran-chabar.de/news.jsp?essayId=14450).
The Sadrists cannot create the sort of anti-occupation mass movement which is needed to drive the occupiers out and enable Iraq to rebuild. That would require unity across confessional lines (and therefore separation of religion from state, and sharia from state law) but the Sadrists are a confessional movement. However, they are an anti-occupation movement, and that is why the US and the Maliki ‘government’ are both targeting them and smearing them as Tehran stooges.
Precision on this issue is politically important because the US state is currently producing an exceptionally strong wave of media spin and disinformation claiming that the Sadrists are Iranian clients. As I correctly pointed out in my April 3 article, this both prepares the ground for a potential US military attack on Iran and serves the occupiers’ political purposes in Iraq (which are actually allied to the Iranian regime’s purposes in Iraq) and the US domestic political purposes of the Republican Party.
It seems that Dave Spencer is opposed to threats of physical violence as a means of settling disputes among Marxists - but only in the abstract (Letters, April 3). That is, he will propose that violence should be outlawed as part of a ‘code of conduct’, but, faced with a real, concrete threat by one member of the Campaign for a Marxist Party to “lamp” another, comrade Spencer goes so far as to excuse and justify such behaviour.
Let us imagine for a moment that comrade Spencer’s story is accurate: the CPGB had orchestrated a series of unprincipled provocations and poor old John Pearson could eventually tolerate the “lies and misrepresentations” no longer. In the heat of the moment when that CPGB lackey, Lawrence Parker, goaded him yet again, he lashed out verbally with threats of violence in response to one provocation too many.
If that were really the case, then Pearson ought to have explained to the CMP conference, when the matter was raised, that his threat was made in the heat of the moment and he now very much regrets it. He would not dream of physically assaulting a comrade merely for referring to him as a “political idiot”.
But, as comrade Spencer knows, there was nothing spontaneous about Pearson’s threat. As I understand it, it was he who approached comrade Parker during the conference lunch break to berate him for the comment - made on an e-list before the conference - and threatened him with violent consequences if he were to repeat it. Apparently Pearson stands by this threat.
The fact that there had been no CPGB-directed campaign of provocation and that comrade Parker is not even a CPGB member is almost irrelevant. Pearson threatened a comrade with violence and Dave Spencer defends him. So much for his ‘code of conduct’!
Actually, had comrade Spencer moved instead a straightforward motion rejecting violence as a means of resolving disputes among comrades (although it seems from his letter that he is not opposed to this after all), then it goes without saying that the CPGB would have voted for it. Unlike comrade Spencer, our opposition to such violence is both theoretical and concrete. But his ‘code of conduct’ was something else. It sought to bar what he calls “verbal abuse”.
An example of what he means by this can be gleaned from comrade Spencer’s letter: “… the CMP committee … were called variously Bakuninites, drunks, Bonapartists, etc, and I was accused of using the CMP journal … for factional purposes … Lawrence Parker … decided to join in the fun by verbally abusing the CMP committee.”
Leaving aside “drunks” (which, as far as I am aware, is a term that has never been levelled against the former CMP committee by anyone), what are we to make of the other examples of “verbal abuse” cited by comrade Spencer? They read to me like political criticisms, but for comrade Spencer they seem to be beyond the pale.
This is the problem. As we have said all along, one person’s political criticism is another person’s insult or “verbal abuse”. Which is why there should be no ban on free debate - overseen by some arbiter wielding a ‘code of conduct’. If that arbiter were someone with such a high level of sensitivity as comrade Spencer, who knows what phrase or criticism would be declared illegitimate - especially if he or his co-thinkers were the target?
But violence is another matter. Those who employ it, or threats of it, as a means of settling disputes within our movement cannot be regarded as comrades. Which is why Pearson must apologise and undertake not to repeat his behaviour if he wishes to be treated as one.
However, Dave Spencer has now made it clear that he condones Pearson’s threat. Is this the position of the CMP Trotskyist Tendency as a whole?
I don’t want to spend too much time on the likes of Dave Spencer and John Pearson. Their political pronouncements have a stench of extreme irrationality. But after reading Spencer’s alibi for physical threats, some comment is in order.
First, I am not a “loyal CPGB member”. I have no formal attachment. For the record, I have been critical of some CPGB interventions in the Campaign for a Marxist Party (for example, the article that drew attention to boozing during CMP meetings, which I thought was a cack-handed piece of journalism) and I think the attempts to paint Phil Sharpe as the devil incarnate have been overdone. However, in general, the CPGB has been a voice of sanity in the CMP and it’s probably irksome to the likes of Spencer that a number of people with no formal CPGB attachment voted against his little clique at the last conference.
As for the “verbal abuse”, I called the Pearson/Spencer clique “political idiots” on the CMP’s internal discussion list. I also said that I did not consider them “idiots” per se. I mocked Pearson for telling us that he excluded someone from another e-list for calling him the “big ego” or some such lightweight remark (this was meant to be an example of the benevolent regime we could look forward to under Pearson/Spencer).
I poured scorn on Spencer’s ideas for a code of conduct - by mocking them I was hoping to prove how unworkable they could become. This was accompanied by an offer of technical help on Marxist Voice - I chose not to pursue this offer with him personally because it became crystal clear after issue three that Spencer wouldn’t be editing it in the future, bar some kind of general loss of sanity in the CMP.
Whether all this amounts to “verbal abuse” or justifies threats of physical violence I’ll leave to the readers to decide. I would also like to publicly thank the comrades of the CPGB for their support in this matter.
Robin Cox is, I feel, rather naive in his speculation about the last form of capitalist governance being an ultra-democratic one, and his view of socialist consciousness gradually spreading out and transforming capitalism into something else is very Fabian (Letters, April 3).
The reality is that communism has now been both possible and necessary for over a century. The monstrous carnage and barbarity of World War I indicated capitalism’s descent into fundamental and historical crisis, revealing the obsolescent nature of capitalist social relations and, as Rosa Luxembourg set out in her 1915 Junius pamphlet, posed the human species with the stark alternative: socialist revolution or barbarism.
So it has been. This epoch, in the absence of the victory of the proletarian revolution, has already been the most barbaric in human history and brings with it the threat of an ever deeper descent into barbarism, whose ultimate consequence could not only be the collapse of civilisation but the extinction of human life on the planet.
The proletarian class struggle can hardly influence these crises until the working class has seized power and is in a position to reorganise production and distribution on a world scale. Yet, the longer the revolution is delayed, the greater is the danger that capitalist decomposition will undermine the material basis for the communist transformation.
However, the signs are positive, in that the working class is still capable of resisting the attacks made on it and we are seeing the emergence of a whole new generation of groups and elements who are questioning the essential bases of the present social system and who are looking at the prospects for a fundamental social change: ie, the development of real class-consciousness. The question is whether we can take a leap onto a new level of organisation, where mankind is at last in control of its own social powers and able to create a world in harmony with its needs.
This is where the significance of new forms of democracy - workers’ councils, unitary organisations of the working class, sovereign general assemblies and committees of delegates elected and accountable at any time, linked tightly to the new goals of the working class - come in as providing the organisational means for the working class to raise and unify its struggles, to confront and overthrow the capitalist state and to establish its own rule, its own power, the dictatorship of the working class on a world scale.
The 1917 October revolution in Russia was the seizure of power by the working class organised in soviets and was the first fully achieved proletarian dictatorship (the 1871 Paris Commune had only managed to create the premises for such a dictatorship). It was the first blow struck for the world revolution and will prove to be a key step along the way for the emancipation of the proletariat and the whole of humanity.
It is obvious from the recent Weekly Worker debate that the ‘socialists’, the anarchists and the bourgeoisie all share a hatred bordering on the pathological of anything relating to proletarian political positions, proletarian revolution and the establishment of soviet power.
Iain McKay says that it’s “highly ironic to see Dan Read attack the constituent assembly for its ‘undemocratic content’ when he ignores the undemocratic actions of the Bolsheviks against the soviets” (Letters, April 3).
Just a few weeks ago, I claimed that the strength of the revolutionary workers and soviet democracy itself “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” (Letters, March 13).
Throughout this entire argument I have stressed the need to trace the degeneration of the revolution in the actual material and social environment present at the time. Nothing more, nothing less. But the argument I have to contend with can in no way be considered scientific, instead pursuing a line of anti-Leninism for the sake of anti-Leninism that ignores the real conditions and skirts around any issue it doesn’t feel like answering.
For instance, I have had to deal with the question of the constituent assembly over and over. Alan Johnstone has never responded to any of the points I raised about the viability of a parliamentary organ “of all classes”, as opposed to the organic, grassroots organisations of the working class. He has also avoided answering my claim that the composition of the assembly itself (I’m having to repeat myself yet again) cannot in any way be considered democratic - for reasons already stated multiple times.
Johnstone then throws a quote into the mix, which states: “The proletariat declined in the city, but it did not wither away. It appears that the Bolshevik party made de-urbanisation and declassing the scapegoats for its political difficulties, when the party’s own policies and its unwillingness to accept changing proletarian attitudes were also to blame.”
But this is not a fully worked out argument. It is an accusation. Which is more believable? That soviet democracy based on the industrial working class began to break down due to the disintegration of that class, or that nasty old Lenin was looking for an excuse to infringe on said democracy just because he thought it was a good idea? The answer should be obvious.
It should also be obvious that to base power on a class that was haemorrhaging into the countryside or the battlefront would lead to all manner of problems, again because whatever ruling body was present would be “fast losing its social base”. Just as the head cannot live without the rest of the body, the upper tiers of the republic could not live without the class. But what should be a given for any Marxist with an understanding of social structures under class society is here being rejected out of hand and replaced with, yet again, an insubstantial opinion that the Bolsheviks were very bad people and did very bad things.
Max Shachtman, in his attempts to clear the air and trace the real roots of Stalinism, also came up against the argument that Bolshevism was simply Stalinism in embryo. In his 1943 article ‘The mistakes of the Bolsheviks’, he made an attempt to fully grapple with this current of thought:
“Consistently thought out, they [the SPGB’s position in this case] boil down to the idea that the real mistake was made in November 1917 when the Bolsheviks took power. This judgment is based essentially on the same factors that generated the fundamental theory of the Stalinist counterrevolution - ‘socialism in one country’ - and differs from it only in that it is not on so high a level. Both tsar and bourgeoisie left the Bolsheviks, who took power almost without shedding a drop of blood, a heritage of chaos and violence and multitudinous unsolved problems.
“The Bolsheviks cannot, and therefore must not, be judged as if they were uncontested masters of a situation in which they could calmly and undisturbedly plan a campaign of social reorganisation.”
Unfortunately, I’m starting to think that such arguments will never be considered for more than a few moments by the likes of comrade Johnstone and co.