Whilst finding some of the arguments propounded by James Turley on the reaction to the BNP ‘membership’ list a refreshing antidote to the knee-jerk reaction of most of the left, I regret that he over-eggs the pudding by ignorance of the situation in the teaching trade unions (‘Bringing back Berufsverbot’, November 27).
It would have been relatively easy to check (and surprising that anyone should be in ignorance of) the fact that Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers, is female. It is also somewhat of a stigmatisation to argue that the NASUWT is on the “right” of teacher trade unionism. Although it has taken up a corporatist role in the social partnership with the government, its record on issues such as trade unionism in Colombia and homophobia do it credit.
In a similar vein, James Turley’s claim that the composition of the national executive of the National Union of Teachers has “large numbers of organised far leftists (from the SWP and Socialist Party)” is way off-beam. There are two members of the SWP currently sitting on the NEC - as a perusal of the Socialist Worker would have confirmed - but no members of the Socialist Party, on a body that has 42 members. Check your facts more thoroughly before going into print.
I want to congratulate Anne McShane for her article, ‘No longer the Celtic tiger’ (October 30). The Celtic tiger was a bubble that had to burst and it did. And the result will be worse than expected. McShane’s article gives some good examples of the ongoing rise of social inequality in the south.
But allow me to add some remarks. I fully agree with your explanation of the sectarian role of the SWP and the Socialist Party. Yet you call them the “main left groups”. What is “left”? I know one could ask this question in every country in the world. But especially in Ireland it’s not just an abstract one and you have to be aware of the wording. Is Irish republicanism not “left”, as you call it?
But, more than that, there is a substantial lack in your article. I don’t want to ask you what Ireland is, because I think you know that. So why do you totally leave out the national question? The underdevelopment of Ireland - and I mean all 32 counties - is and was a result of hundreds of years of British colonialism and the 1921 partition.
The current downturn, as well as the financial crisis, is worse because of this partition. The people have had to pay for partition and the occupation of the six northern counties for nearly 90 years now. Without solving the national question, you cannot dare to think of solving the social question. And it’s the same the other way round. It’s a dialectical relationship.
In your article, you ask for a revolutionary solution. I think the republican economic programme, Saol Nua - a new way of life, gives such a solution. It is a proposal for a social Ireland without social inequality, mass unemployment and homelessness. This Saol Nua could work in the framework provided by Éire Nua. It outlines a federal, socialist republic of all 32 counties elected by all the people of Ireland, be they nationalist or loyalists.
And here lies the difference between true republicans and self-styled ‘revolutionary socialists’ like the Socialist Party or the SWP. They don’t give any alternatives beyond capitalist rule.
Whilst in overall agreement with James Turley on Obama, I should like to take issue with him on one matter.
James writes: “We should expose the wholly reactionary nature of Keynesianism, how it sapped the revolutionary energy of the dispossessed in its heyday and ultimately sent millions of proletarians to their deaths in World War II” (‘Obamania and the left’, November 13).
This is simply not true. Keynes’s General theory of employment, interest and money was not published until 1936. This work was ignored by governments throughout the pre-war years. Rulers in Great Britain and the USA were wedded to neo-classical economic theory, which dictated that the recession was caused by markets rendered inefficient through monopoly power - particularly the power of trade unions, which would not allow wages to fall to their true (lower) equilibrium level. They were able to force lower wages on workers, which further deflated the economy by decreasing effective demand, and exacerbated the slump.
It was these policies - as well as the ‘beggar thy neighbour’ policies adopted regarding international trade - which sapped the revolutionary energy of the dispossessed in its heyday and ultimately sent millions of proletarians to their deaths in World War II. Keynesian policies were adopted, albeit in a very half-hearted fashion, after the war.
Revolutionaries should have no illusions about Keynesianism. It can indeed sap revolutionary energy, as it did in the post-war period. What is worse for the working class, as soon as slump threatens, politicians drop the whole theory like a ton of bricks - as they did in the late 60s.
However, as Marxists we should surely support all reforms - whether politicians claim that they are Keynesian or not. Applying this to the American presidential election, it was surely ill-advised for James and other correspondents to the Weekly Worker to call for no vote for Obama.
Prove us wrong
Firstly, I would like to apologise to Ian Mackaye, legendary front man of Minor Threat and Fugazi among others, for getting his name confused with Iain McKay, the Weekly Worker letters page in-house anarchist (Letters, November 27).
The latter accuses me of missing, or rather ignoring, his point. How dare we “impose” a programme from the outset? Don’t we know a programme “should” come from “struggle”? Well, the most obvious riposte is simply - what on earth is he doing writing in to our paper? What does he hope to achieve, if programmatic discussions between different trends is pointless?
If that constitutes struggle, then so do Communist Students interventions at these halfway house ‘don’t alienate the anarchists’ conferences that provoked his autopilot rant about “Leninist sects”. Proposing a Marxist programme in such circumstances constitutes bringing a dimension of political struggle into what is otherwise a cosy lash-up with the exact result that - yes - the anarchists are left to their anarchism, the greens to greenism, and the Trots ... in charge, usually.
I doubt this is the sense of struggle he means at all, however. He presumably means that programmes are spontaneously generated in social struggles. To an extent he is right - the course of a mass struggle will highlight tactical and strategic goals which will require programmatic solutions, as well as producing some of the solutions themselves, and he will find nary a Leninist that does not at least pay lip service to the creativity of the masses and spontaneous struggle (contrary to anarchist mythology).
But it is also true that there is presently no mass struggle movement around free education. There is no movement to learn from, to teach us its spotless programme. If leftists are to attempt to unite around educational reform in such circumstances, they are not in a position to do anything other than “impose” a programme - be it anarchist, Marxist or an unprincipled liberal fudge. The wishy-washy founding statements of Education Not for Sale and Another Education Is Possible are every bit as ‘imposed’ as our alternative programmes would have been - it is just that the ‘imposition’ in this case is on a fictional mass movement from whose vantage point, as in Lacanian psychoanalysis, the leftists imagine themselves being watched.
So, Iain, the choice is yours. Either the proceedings are useless and nothing can be done until the masses see fit to tell us what it is they want (a position closer to Bernstein than Bakunin, Durruti or anyone else), or some kind of programmatic basis is needed to achieve unity - not as an end in itself, but to do what needs to be done. We think Marxism fits the bill. If you disagree, quit blathering on endlessly about “Leninist” original sin and prove us wrong.
Prove us wrong
Prove us wrong
After reading Chris Knight’s article, I can only conclude that anthropology’s gain is the stage’s loss (‘Next revolution’, November 27).
I, along with a good number in the Radical Anthropology Group, had taken at face value Chris’s prediction that the “west’s first velvet revolution” would begin at the Halloween event in Canary Wharf and his insistence that it was our duty to join the half million to two million angry workers who would throng London’s financial district. If only Chris had intimated that he was getting into character a few weeks early, we could have avoided many a heated debate and spent more time in rehearsal.
As my own article made clear, I am a fan of political street theatre and I applaud ‘Dancing on the grave of capitalism’ as a worthy example of the form (‘Desperate stratagems’, November 13). But so utterly convincing did I find Chris’s performance as a would-be revolutionary leader in the weeks leading up to October 31, that I anticipated that he might have been a little disappointed with the 300-odd turnout for the demonstration. But assembling a cast of that size for a play is, as Chris points out, a “stunning success”. How gullible does that make me?
I console myself with the realisation that the bosses throughout docklands who sent their workers home early and the police who turned out in force fell for the same jape.
Wires have been similarly crossed with regard to the role of the moon in a 21st century workers’ revolution. I understood that Chris and his collaborators were planning a series of lunar-scheduled events that would culminate in a global revolution by the 2009 summer solstice. I thought he might genuinely believe that replicating significant features of the original human revolution was a feasible political strategy in the course of the next few months. Chris mentions nothing of the sort in his most recent article. More fool me. I’ve fallen for another of Chris’s performances.
I assume that the ‘October theses’, with their mixture of revolutionary phraseology and reactionary sentiment, were intended to flush out dour leftists with a sense of humour deficit (Letters, October 9). Guilty again.
It only remains for me to correct two or three apparent misapprehensions on Chris’s part about me - although I fear that Chris may yet have the last laugh when he reveals another ‘gotcha’.
Chris appears to believe that I either celebrate light pollution or accept it as a permanent feature of human existence. Far from it. I expect a future communism to overcome exploitation and oppression and humanity’s alienation from itself, from the products of its labour and from nature - and that, I suspect, will include turning down the lights and marvelling at the Milky Way. The reorganisation of the way we lead our lives might even include a return to some kind of lunar calendar. That will be for future generations to determine.
In the meantime, the workers’ revolution that will set humanity on the path to communism must be accomplished with the materials provided for us by capitalism and the horrendous system of wage-slavery. Those materials include the 24/7 clock and a solar calendar - not the lunar-based rhythms of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. That is why I think it is appropriate to organise a protest at the G20 meeting in London in April 2009 - scheduled to a very capitalist cycle indeed.
How to organise a workers’ revolution is another question altogether. I believe the task that faces us is building a mass communist party. That is the project that the CPGB has set itself. Not alone, as a sect pretending that no other left groups exist, but as a standing challenge to all self-declared revolutionaries that we need to start now organising a party that is serious about revolution. That will include recruiting members and debating programme - activities that Chris disparages; but how else do we increase our numbers and decide what to do? Only in this way can we begin to close the gap that Chris eloquently points to between the failures of capitalism and the failure of the left to pose a challenge to capitalism.
I cannot agree with Chris that “Our theoretical work has been sufficiently done. Let us now move from theory to practice.” That is a strange conclusion to reach when the workers’ movement and Marxist theory is still struggling to escape the stultifying influence of decades of Stalinism. Of course, renewing theory must go hand in hand with organisation and struggle. I have to say I find it ironic that the man who created a brilliant theory explaining the origins of human symbolic culture, including language and abstract thought, should be so opposed to revolutionaries deploying these facilities.
Lastly, Chris takes me to task for taking sides with the Taliban. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have vigorously argued against any kind of defencist position towards reactionary regimes or other forces that come under attack from imperialism (see, for example, ‘Anti-imperialism and the working class’ Weekly Worker September 4). But at the same time communists should be utterly opposed to the imperialism of their own state. The independence of the working class, both in the imperialist heartland and in countries challenging the major imperialist powers, is the key task.
For us in Britain, that means opposition not just to US imperialism, but to the role of our own army. We should not encourage any illusions that British troops have a progressive role to play in Afghanistan.
Nor do I think that a revolutionary Britain or Europe should be sending armed forces into central Asia - even if styled as an “internationally coordinated people’s war”. The workers’ revolution will spread by force of example and by the assistance we provide to local communists and working class organisations. One invasion of Afghanistan in the name of communism is enough.
I am sorry that I disturbed Steve Cooke (Letters, November 27). It must be very upsetting for him. To his credit Steve says: “I for one could never condone [the use of personal abuse]; it is uncomradely and risks undermining efforts to develop unity among the Marxist left.” Exactly. That is precisely the political point I have been trying to make.
I am not concerned to put myself in the role of victim because I am a sensitive soul who cannot stand a verbal smack in the mouth every now and then‚ as Steve suggests rather patronisingly. It is not attacks on me personally I complain about, but it is the political method of using personal abuse and misrepresentation of opponents’ views that I am trying to highlight. This is a common method in left groups and is used, as Steve suggests, as a barrier to democratic discussion.
Nevertheless, having made his statement, Steve then goes on to deny me the right to a point of view - instead of carrying out a comradely conversation. In the letter to which Steve is replying, I stated that, contrary to Jack Conrad’s constant accusations, the DSA does not believe in halfway housism, in pushing People before profit or in the Campaign for a Marxist Party fighting elections.
My declaration is not enough for Steve, however, and, like a pantomime audience, he shouts back, ‘Oh yes you do!’ How can one have a discussion on this basis? It reminds me of the Gerry Healy method of debate.
What Steve should have done if he remains sceptical of what I say - and, of course, he has every right to - is to have said, ‘If you don’t believe in A, B or C, how do you explain your resolutions X, Y and Z?’ Then a civilised and democratic discussion could have started. It would not be difficult to explain where Jack Conrad’s misunderstandings of the DSA positions stem from. But, as it is, there are none so deaf as those who do not want to listen.
On the question of Jack Conrad’s accusation that the former CMP committee were a bunch of drunks, Steve is right that it is perfectly reasonable for Jack to argue that comrades should not drink alcohol during meetings. Fair enough. But only a completely blinkered CPGBer could fail to see that, in the context of writing a report of a CMP committee meeting, Jack was deliberately and publicly smearing the committee and subjecting us to ridicule. And the fact of the matter is that the accusation was untrue; nobody was drunk.