Sometimes it is difficult to understand how many times the left can write about religion before they start to reflect that to anyone with training in studying religion their efforts are risible at best (Letters, April 10).
I’m assuming that Jack Conrad can read fluent Qu’ranic Arabic, as it is a basic axiom of islamic study that the Qu’ran is only the Qu’ran when it is in the original Arabic. Therefore, claiming to have ‘understood’ the Qu’ran based on an English translation is problematic at best.
Secondly, it really is crass ignorance for someone to comment on the relationship between the shia school of fiqh and the sunni schools and not be aware of the different approaches behind them. For example the rejection of qiya in shia fiqh.
In terms of Cook and Crone, I find it strange for your reviewer to praise their methodology, whilst admitting to have never have read any of their works. The fact of the matter is that Cook and Crone are probably the worst example of the orientalist attempts to deconstruct islam. Their abuse of the sources in their works is well known. Perhaps your reviewer can explain what part of their methodology he thinks useful?
Based upon your review, I feel pity for those people wasting money on Conrad’s book thinking they are going to get anything other than a fundamentally flawed and wholly amateurish attempt to impose communist conclusions on the facts.
The lack of your seriousness in studying religion is reflected in your juvenile editorial policy of giving lower case letters to words that by common usage start with a capital letter: eg, ‘Islam’, not ‘islam’. Given your attitude, why would I want to waste my time writing an article?
I must say that Communist Students’ decision not to vote for Heather Shaw in the election for vice-president of the National Union of Students seems absolutely ridiculous (‘NUS: right prepares for fresh assault’, April 10). You missed a chance to increase leftwing influence in the NUS over getting troops out of Iraq - something that NUS conference can do absolutely nothing about.
The left needs to forget stupid divisions over issues such as this and outdated doctrinal disputes. The only way of having any chance of overturning the current NUS regime is for the left to unite into one bloc and offer some realistic plans for students to get on board with. Believe it or not, the differences between Marxism-Leninism and different flavours of Trotskyism do not matter. Winning power and influence to enact real changes to improve the situation of students is what is important.
The current state of the left is handing the Blairites the NUS on a plate. Communist Students, Education Not for Sale and the socialists need to unite or become completely irrelevant.
As a long-time student of economic and social history, I firmly believe that there are parallels between the last 10 years and the decade preceding the 1929 Wall Street crash. The big difference is that in 1929 shares were the vehicle for financial self-destruction, whereas in 2008 it is residential property.
The last 10 years, just like the 1920s, have been a period of easy money and therefore easy morals. This access to easy money explains why divorce and prostitution have grown substantially. For example, easy money has meant that the proportion of men visiting prostitutes has increased from one in 50 in 1997 to one in 10 in 2008.
However, the credit crunch of August 2007 means that the era of easy money and easy morals is coming to an end, so fewer people will be able to afford to get divorced or visit a prostitute. The result will be couples being forced to stay together. It may mean that Relate will find that its ‘business’ of counselling married couples booms in the years ahead.
The easy morals of the 1920s in Britain, Germany and the USA were replaced during the 1930s great depression by a return to ‘conservative’ family values. The same change applies today in 2008.
I do not condone threats of physical violence. Peter Manson has now accused me twice of this and it is a lie (Letters, April 10).
I moved the resolution on a code of conduct at the CMP conference which explicitly ruled physical and verbal abuse out of order. I stand by the code of conduct I proposed and would judge any comrade by that code whoever they are. The reason I moved that resolution was so that the CMP could try consciously to develop a comradely and democratic culture. To my knowledge, this was the first time any left group in Britain had tried this.
Peter Manson and his CPGB comrades voted against my resolution. It is they, not I, who have some explaining to do. Peter says that if the resolution had limited itself to physical abuse the CPGB would have voted for it. Well, they could have moved an amendment to that effect but they did not. The result is that the CMP has no code of conduct and nothing in its constitution to deal with disciplinary matters. So we make the rules up as we go along.
The first concrete case to come before the CMP committee is that of John Pearson and Lawrence Parker. For some reason, it has taken the committee five months even to start judging what should be a fairly straightforward matter. Usually, before the facts and assessment of a case are given, defendants are assumed to be innocent, but Peter and the CPGB have already made up their mind as judge, jury and executioner - John Pearson is guilty and should be expelled. Furthermore, anybody who does not join in the lynch mob mentality is by the Stalinist process of amalgam judged as being guilty as well!
Thus, instead of developing a comradely and democratic culture for the CMP, we have any case of abuse or threatened abuse made into a factional arm-wrestling contest. This is made worse by the fact that the CPGB do not accept the category of verbal abuse at all. Peter says that it is a subjective matter, where one person’s “verbal abuse” is another person’s “political criticism”. I think this is nonsense and that the membership can decide objectively what is political criticism and what is verbal abuse, what is acceptable language and what is not.
Peter says that I am over-sensitive because I object to being called a Bakuninite, a drunk, a Bonapartist, etc, etc, in the pages of the Weekly Worker. These are political criticisms, not verbal abuse, according to him. Actually, I would say that these are downright lies, like saying I condone threats of violence. I don’t know whether the CPGB would accept the category of lies as being out of order in a code of conduct. It seems to me that the CPGB are against using the term ‘verbal abuse’ because they reserve the right to misrepresent what opponents say in the Weekly Worker. I said as much in a paragraph in my letter a fortnight ago and it was cut out (Letters, April 3). So much for the ‘free debate’ Peter is so keen on.
On Lawrence Parker’s letter, I apologise for calling him a “loyal CPGB member”. That was my mistake and I hope he didn’t take it as verbal abuse! On the question of the CMP magazine Marxist Voice, Lawrence says that I do not deserve to be editor. Surely, that is a matter that should have been raised at the CMP conference. After all, I was only a volunteer from the first conference. But it was not raised. Then the new committee decided to ditch the magazine without giving any reasons and without informing or consulting the CMP members, the Marxist Voice subscribers or myself as editor. Lawrence may call that sanity and non-idiotic, but it is hardly democratic.
Andrew Northall accuses me of being naive for speculating that the last form of capitalist governance prior to the establishment of socialism would be an ultra-democratic one (Letters, April 10).
It would have been helpful had he attempted to substantiate this comment. Am I to take it then that he subscribes to the decidedly unMarxist (not to say, idealist) notion that, notwithstanding a massive socialist movement, the powers-that-be can, on a whim, shut down parliament and install a dictatorship? Never mind that this will be in the face of radically altered and democratised social climate in which anti-democratic sentiments will have become over time increasingly unacceptable to the electorate at large and even amongst the armed forces; the ruling class can do just as they please, according to Northall, it would seem, and we, the working class, would be powerless to prevent that. Somebody should ask Andrew Northall why this didn’t happen when the brutal state capitalist regimes of eastern Europe tumbled like ninepins after the dramatic assertion of ‘people power’ there.
The odd thing is that he should then advocate “new forms of democracy” for the working class such as workers’ councils. Now I’m quite open-minded about this: there is nothing wrong with workers’ councils in principle. But please don’t tell me that workers’ councils are okay and the electoral approach to establishing socialism is not, since, if the latter were seriously attempted, a bunch of crusty old colonels would step in and put a stop to it. If they could do that, what is to stop them closing down and banning the workers’ councils? Come to that, what else can we do to establish socialism which would not also meet the same fate? Put up the barricades? Give me a break. Talk about naivety!
I don’t actually think the powers-that-be would be in any position to prevent either the electoral strategy or the worker councils’ strategy from working by the time there was a mass movement for socialism, but if they were to try this they would be more likely to target the workers’ councils because of the problematic nature of a dual power structure model of politics. A regime that relied upon the electoral process to gain legitimacy would have less reason to crack down on a political movement that made use of that self-same mechanism. In fact, to do so would seriously undermine the legitimacy of the regime itself in the eyes of the electorate.
Finally, Andrew Northall opines that my “view of socialist consciousness gradually spreading out and transforming capitalism into something else is very Fabian”. He has completely missed the point. It is not a case of transforming capitalism; it is a case of helping to expand and develop spaces of non-market relationships and productive activity that transcend capitalism. This has got nothing whatsoever to do with Fabianism, which is about trying to reform capitalism from within in the mistaken belief that it can be thereby transformed via state measures into socialism.
What is being suggested here is not the transformation of capitalism, but rather the contraction in the scope and scale of capitalist economic relationships in response to the growth of socialist consciousness, while reciprocally helping to consolidate and foster that growth. In other words, it’s a question of synergistic mutual reinforcement - of theory and practice.
See you there
Without doubt the Projectile Anarchist Festival, which returns for its fourth year over spring bank holiday weekend, Friday May 23 to Monday May 26, is the most dynamic and exciting event on the far left.
While the Anarchist Bookfare in London attracts more people, Projectile is a festival of reflection, entertainment and action. Debates and discussion throughout the extended weekend, far from the usual inter-left navel-gazing, are aimed at organising and furthering the struggle. It leaves the Socialist Workers Party’s Marxism in pale comparison, while your Communist University, deep and thoughtful though it is, requires something of an intellectual diving bell and a decompression chamber.
The weekend promises a breathless rush of bands, speakers and films. Highlights of the festival are a live webcast with professor Noam Chomsky (regarded as the most important intellectual alive today), discussing how anarchism has illuminated his critical thought, and Paul Mason, Newsnight’s business and industrial correspondent, talking about, amongst other things, the Paris commune of 1871 and the emergence of working class struggle in China, where underreported wildcat strikes and popular uprisings are threatening the fabric of this dominant superpower. This year’s discussions will also focus on revolutionary workers’ movements on Tyneside and the north, community struggles, working class women in action and anti-fascism.
The venue itself is evidence of the creativity of anarchism on Tyneside. The Star and Shadow cinema on the Newcastle side of the Byker Bridge is a brilliantly converted warehouse. Apart from a fascinating array of ongoing left and progressive films, it is a regular music venue and doubles as a social centre open to the progressive, green and revolutionary workers’ movement. An ideal place at which to stage the fourth festival - although this year, owing to the star billing of Chomsky, a bigger venue has been booked for the opening session at the University of Northumbria.
Perhaps the most exciting feature of the event is that it attracts masses of uninitiated people, open and thirsty for new perspectives and answers to the world we find ourselves in. There are rarely, if ever, the inter-sect battles between tired lefty groups preaching the old-time religion of dogma and well rehearsed, though utterly useless, formulae. The conventional left doesn’t tend to darken our doors, which is a blessing. Neither is this one of those green welly, lentil-eating, environmentalist jamborees or an expanded version of the local student union bar, rotten with egocentric intellectualism or medievalist ‘back to the stone age’-ism (though the vegetarian menu on offer will doubtless contain the regulation lentils, it is usually exciting and varied grub even for those used to meals that are more carnivorous.)
Without a doubt, however, there is room for Weekly Worker readers - in fact it might do you a world of good to travel to the northern reaches of the railway line and see how vibrant and alive anarchist thought on Tyneside is, and join in the debates and discussions, as well as share a few pints and bop. See you there.
For full details of the programme, go to www.projectile.org.uk.
See you there
See you there
I read Jack Conrad’s excellent piece on the Campaign for a Marxist Party (‘What sort of party do we need?’, April 10). His analysis should be heeded by everyone, and his commitment to an open and democratic centralist approach is key.
The bold intro said that the campaign for a mass working class party has been “abortive”. So I can only assume the underlying message of comrade Conrad’s piece was: join the CPGB. Indeed, as the CPGB home page states, “Genuine Marxists must engage in a process of recomposition ... We call on all serious partisans of the working class to join us in this work.”
I am one of those Marxists who walked away from the sects in frustration long ago. Indeed, such was my frustration that I walked away from Marxism and all forms of left politics. The coming economic recession, which threatens our class, has brought me back from the wilderness. But you cannot fathom what it is like to return and find the left locked in exactly the same state of argumentative stasis as before. This is insular self-indulgence of the worst kind.
And while we are threatening to “lamp” each other over infantile disagreements, the system of capital is approaching meltdown and our class desperately needs us. Who can take us seriously when we behave like this? It is perhaps fortunate that our class isn’t looking! Yet we are awash with incisive theory and analysis. It deserves a much wider audience. And, yes, we need a mass Marxist party - as soon as possible, please.
It is probably asking far too much of the egos on the left to lay aside their deep loathing of each other and join the CPGB. So it would probably be easier to start a completely new party from scratch, if it weren’t for the fact that the left factions who would join it would simply tear that to pieces too.
Perhaps only a full-blown international economic crisis, in which the working class is actively participating, can save us. Maybe only that will be compelling enough to tear us away from fighting each other, and get us fighting the real enemy.