I greatly welcome the decision of Yassamine Mather to join your organisation. Previously all the in-depth analysis by members of your own organisation was by (probably white) men and she adds much-needed balance.
Her analysis of the situation in Iran and what to do about it has generally been very good, and the personal touch when she recalled her time as one of the leaders of the Iranian Fedayeen (especially noting how she was one of only two survivors from a camp of 50 dedicated Marxists) was much appreciated by me.
One suggestion, however; after Obama’s inauguration, shouldn’t the best strategy be negotiation between the new US administration and the Iranian regime? Obama is far to the left of Tony Blair and even he achieved peace in Northern Ireland. A settlement (even a partial one) in Iran would go a great way to encouraging positive developments in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. I don’t think complete harmony between religions will ever be achieved, and actually welcome the fact that the world will never be as boring as the communist society you hope will ultimately come about!
Whether the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be resolved by a single or two-state solution, Jack Conrad’s reply to Tony Greenstein that the latter “clutches at the dim and distant prospect of the oil running out” for imperialism to lose interest in the region and drop its support for Israel, is a misreading of the conflict in the Middle East and the situation the world faces in general.
That Jack regards oil running out as a “dim and distant prospect” may suggest a degree of unfamiliarity with the unfolding energy crisis which the world is now entering.
The subject of when oil will run out is a long-standing debate, usually referred to as ‘peak oil’, which has been rumbling on behind the back of the Marxist movement and the public for many years, although the leading circles of bourgeois society are well aware of the real situation.
The present ‘official’ view posted by the International Energy Agency is that conventional oil production will peak by 2020 - that is, 12 years from now - which can hardly be described as the dim and distant future. The IEA frequently changes its positions, so their new position cannot be relied on. Peak oil may be nearer, although to admit this would serve to undermine the stock markets. Some commentators believe that the world has already reached its maximum production of conventional oil, which is what peak oil refers to. According to scientists at the Oil Depletion Analysis Centre, global oil production will peak by 2011, followed by a steep decline. According to LF Ivanhoe, in King Hubbert updated, the critical date for peak oil falls between 2000-2010, and he points out that “this foreseeable energy crisis will affect everyone on earth”.
Importantly, the IEA date for the peak is rejected by the experts, the followers of Marion King Hubbert, the man who first developed peak oil theory, and in 1956 was derided when he predicted that US oil production in the lower 48 states would peak by 1970 at the latest and then go into irreversible decline. In 1970 when US oil production peaked, his critics were forced to eat humble pie.
In oil industry circles Hubbert became famous for his accurate prediction of when American oil production would peak and decline, but he also used his method to predict the global oil production peak, based on the data that was available to him, suggesting a world peak between 1995 and 2000, or the early years in the new century.
In fact, without the recessions in the 1970s and 1980s, which cut oil demand, Hubbert again would probably have scored another hit. Since Hubbert gave two dates for a peak, the later for the early years of the new century, he is still on course for vindication. Yet again, the present recession, reducing demand for oil, would delay or conceal the peak.
What is certain, if we base ourselves on Hubbert’s calculations, is that the world has entered the period of peak oil production. His followers in the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (and Gas) ASPO, headed by Colin Campbell, say that they have refined his method of predicting the global oil peak and that the new data available places the peak between 2000 and 2010. The fact that this is still within Hubbert’s time period raises the question of what improvement they have made in Hubbert’s method, particularly since the peak suggested by Hubbert was delayed by the previous recessions. Campbell, a rather conservative person, sees a period of great tension during the energy transition, and in Oil crisis, he writes that “It is not so much that the decline of oil itself will bring everything to a standstill, but rather the perception of looming long-term decline will undermine the foundations of the financial-industry system that depended on perpetual growth for its survival” (p186).
Mathew Simmons, energy investment banker, advisor to the former president, George Bush junior, and author of Twilight in the desert, an important book based on a critical study of 200 technical papers written by experts on the state of the Saudi fields, says we will only know when global oil production peaked when we look in our rear view mirror: that is, after the event.
Peak oil production comes when we have extracted about half the oil in any field, country or globally. This means that we have extracted about one trillion of the two trillion barrels of conventional oil, which petroleum geologists, who have worked for the oil companies, estimate to be the world’s endowment.
Whether the global maximum production of oil takes the form of a peak - ie, the bell-shaped curve - or a plateau, after this period oil production will begin its inevitable decline with far-reaching consequences for all societies.
In an oil-dependent world, this will be an historic turning point for modem industrial civilisation. The fear of peak oil has already led to the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan by the imperialists and threats against Iran, which contains the world second largest oil fields. In other words, peak oil is increasingly driving world political developments.
At the time of writing, most people on the left are unaware of the peak oil issue and its implications. This lack of awareness at present can be easily confirmed by studying the various programmes of the political groups. Socialism is certainly needed and, I would argue, is the best way for alleviating the approaching energy crisis. However, getting rid of capitalism will not replenish the oil fields. Also, if the left were to take power before the oil crisis strikes, it would be easier for reactionaries to blame the ensuing hardship on their regime.
When the left put forward their various programmes and fail to address the issue of the approaching peak in global oil production and its social consequences for a world where industrial production, agriculture and transportation is petroleum-dependent, it means that these programmes are irrelevant to the situation we could soon be facing in a few years time. Furthermore, some people on the left need to appreciate that old-style petroleum-driven socialism cannot serve as a model for the future. Socialism has to be rethought along new, sustainable, ecological lines.
Hillel Ticktin’s review of Simon Pirani’s The Russian Revolution in retreat raises some vital questions for our assessment of both the past and the future (‘Gambling on the world revolution’, December 18). The core issue is the nature of the socialist movement and how it relates to the broader working class.
Ticktin’s review is essentially an argument that only the elite of the Communist Party could defend the Soviet state and society. If they had made any movement towards the workers having real power then disaster would have followed.
He argues that after 1920-21 the Soviet state faced the choice of democracy or hanging on to power. This misses the point entirely. The strength of the revolution was not the Bolshevik Party; it was masses of workers. Their creative impulse made the revolution. Later, their progressive exclusion from a real role cut back the possibility of the regime hanging on, opening the way to socialism on a world scale. Narrowing the base of the regime was part of the problem, not the solution.
Indeed, it is clear that the course the party leadership took the Soviet Union along proved to be a disaster. For all their wisdom, those at the top lacked unity and coherence and they offered no way forward. Pirani shows in detail that the workers of just one city had better ideas than the elite did.
Ticktin has stuck with the old elitism, which is at the core of so much of what passes for revolutionary thought. He argues that the workers did not live up to their leaders (where have I heard that before?). After the ravages of war, the proletariat was no longer good enough for its historic role and it needed the party to substitute itself. This strangely hierarchical proposition is founded on the empirical argument that the revolutionary workers went off to fight, leaving a poorer class of worker behind. The left-behinds were somehow not real workers. Behind this argument is a proposition, common in the party at the time, that working class consciousness is primarily a tradition. But working class consciousness starts as a reflection of the current situation and moves on to grasp the way forward through collective struggle. As Pirani has shown, that consciousness was developing in Moscow. However, it was not advancing simply through the party but through the members of other socialist parties, unaffiliated workers and the lower ranks of the Bolsheviks.
Hillel’s point that there were workers without a working class again ignores the evidence before his eyes and indirectly undermines his own cause. Pirani points to distinctly working class structures such as trade unions and factory committees. Workers were organised and funnelled much of their criticism of the regime through those working class structures. The problem is not that the class was not organised, but that its attempts to articulate its politics were crushed by the regime until it was able to squeeze the life out of the movement that had originally made its power.
Ticktin argues as if Pirani was advocating democracy in general (this opens the way to the misreading that he advocates some sort of parliamentary system). Readers of Pirani’s book will search in vain for any such advocacy. He argues that the soviets could have been revitalised and other socialist parties permitted to work freely. This may not have been a sufficient condition for success, but it was surely a necessary one. His arguments reflect the research that has made The Russian Revolution in retreat important and compelling.
Jack Conrad is wrong to say that I see no qualitative difference between the CPGB and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (Letters, December 18). As Jack says, the latter is a social-imperialist group which effectively supports the occupation of Iraq and, given half the chance, would be in the trenches defending an Israeli attack on Iran (after they’ve finished with Gaza).
However, I fervently disagree with the idea of two democratic, secular states as a contradiction in terms. If there are two states, they will be neither democratic nor secular. Not only do I want to see the unification of the Arab east based on working class unity, but it is essential if Zionism is to be overthrown. The cowardly silence and in reality support that the Arab ruling class gives to the Israeli attack on Gaza, which could be halted in a single moment by an embargo on oil shipments, throws into sharp relief the need for the revolutionary overthrow of these regimes, the corrupt junior partners of US imperialism.
However, the solution, even on a bourgeois national basis, is a single state in Palestine comprising both the Palestinians and Israeli Jews. A Jewish state will have no other basis than the recreation of Zionist separatism and apartheid.
Henry Mitchell, whose Zionism oozes out of every pore, including his attempts to ‘prove’ that I’ve been disingenuous, is of course right that the Nazis wiped out the vibrant Yiddish culture and working class movement of eastern Europe (Letters, December 18). But, as he also knows, the Zionists too hated that very same culture. Nothing was more despised than the galut language, Yiddish - hence Hebrew being chosen as the language of Zionist colonisation.
Yes, I wish the Israel state to be de-Zionised, replaced, destroyed or whatever verb you choose. Marxists, however, make a sharp distinction between a state - literally a body of armed men (and women), a coercive institution that sends warplanes to bomb unarmed civilians - and the people who live within that state. When I say that no-one calls for Israel to be abolished or destroyed, I am referring to the myth of driving the Jewish people of Israel into the sea or their extermination. The state itself, the Israeli Defence Force, their cluster bombs and all the other hideous creatures of war, should certainly be destroyed/de-Zionised/dismantled, in exactly the same way that the South African apartheid state was.
Phil Kent is in danger of parodying my arguments, which is not a healthy way to conduct a debate (Letters, December 18). I oppose two states because it will result in the continuation of the present situation. I am opposed to partition or repartition - be it in Ireland or Israel/Palestine. I notice that no-one has explained, because I assume the CPGB would have opposed partition in 1921, why partition in Ireland (and India) was bad and that in Palestine is good.
Phil is wrong to suggest I am saying that “Zionists are colonial settler oppressors who have no rights”. There is no doubt that Zionism was a form of settler colonialism, sponsored as it was by British colonialism. However, I have never said that they therefore have no rights. On the contrary, the Zionist Jewish settlers of Palestine should have every right bar one - the right to oppress another group because they are not Jewish.
It isn’t true that “neither Palestinians nor Israelis want to live in the same state because they do not trust one another enough”. Not only is this anti-Marxist, reducing a conflict between the coloniser and colonised to personal whim, but it is untrue.
A large minority of Palestinians have always wanted a single-state solution. The majority in the West Bank and Gaza have settled on a two-state solution as a means of ridding themselves of the boot on their neck, not because they would have difficulty living alongside Jews. And an increasing number of Israeli Palestinians support a single-state solution because they know, as Tsipi Livni confirmed recently, that in the event of a two-state solution they would be considered citizens of that state and in all likelihood expelled into such a state.
In contrast, most Israeli Jews don’t want to live with Palestinians for the same reason as most white South Africans or whites in the south of the USA didn’t - sheer, unadulterated racism, which no socialist should make excuses for or circumvent.
Phil says that a solution seems as far away now as ever. I suspect that the Israeli state, an artificial state for which war is its lifeblood, has reached its apogee and that a combination of forces and events will lead to a solution, not least because the instability caused by Israel’s actions ironically threatens the stability of the very Arab regimes Israel is supposed to be watching over. The question is whether socialists lend their support to a bourgeois, neo-colonial solution, which is what two states would be. The AWL will, of course, willingly do so. I trust and hope that the CPGB will have a rethink.
Israel is today the spoilt brat of US imperialism. We should, however, bear in mind that imperialism will not hesitate to withdraw its support if the price is made high enough.
I’d like to come back as briefly as I can to some of the points made by Jim Moody (Letters, December 18) in relation to my previous letter (December 11). To save space, a fuller response can be read on my various blogs at www.boffyblog.blogspot.com.
My definition of a social revolution is the same as that used by Marx - that is, a period when the whole complex of productive relations, and the social relations that grow upon them, is overturned in favour of some new way in which man goes about producing his means of life. Was that happening at the time of the English civil war? I think any objective assessment has to say no. The vast majority of people continued to produce their means of existence on individual peasant farms. Commodity production was by no means generalised, and, where goods were ‘manufactured’, they were overwhelmingly still produced by either artisans or guild rather than capitalistic production. It is not a matter of when capitalism begins - if that were the case, then the revolution began two centuries earlier still! - but when capitalism begins to become the dominant method of production and when, therefore, the capitalist class and its ideas begin to become dominant.
I don’t believe that is the case until around the time of the Glorious Revolution, and even then it is the commercial and financial bourgeoisie - including those sections of the aristocracy in the process of transforming themselves - which is in the van, and is one reason why, although the state becomes a bourgeois state, the bourgeoisie itself does not exercise political power. A similar thing can be seen in Russia at the end of the 19th century. Lenin had no problem in describing the tsarist state as a capitalist state, even though the bourgeoisie did not exercise political power. And, yes, as I said, the interests of these sections of the bourgeoisie are intertwined with the aristocrats and landlords, which is why capitalism proper and its real social revolution cannot occur until the industrial bourgeoisie became dominant at the beginning of the 19th century, and why it could not seize political power until 1832.
As for ‘premature’ revolutions, I was only saying that such revolutions are premature to the extent that the social foundations on which they take place are not sufficient for their success. I think the history of such revolutions demonstrates that to be true. But revolutions - political revolutions as much as social revolutions - are not called forth at the will of man. I take the same attitude that Marx did in relation to the Paris Commune. He advised the Paris workers against rising up because he did not believe the time was right. When they did, he gave them his full support. I would have supported the Bolsheviks in 1917. A revolutionary can do no other, even if you know the chances are that it will end in disaster, because not to do so is not only to abandon your revolutionary duty, but often in such cases the alternative to the revolution is no better, and often worse. The point is to learn the lessons on behalf of your class for the future.
Clearly, the English, French and Russian revolutions were not the same. That does not mean there are no parallels or lessons to be learned by such comparisons. Lenin and Trotsky certainly believed so. Marx and Engels also used such comparisons on previous historical events to gauge current and future social upheavals.
On cooperatives, I have written a great amount to dispute what Jim says. I am more interested that the Labour Representation Committee has passed a resolution on worker self-management than in Ken Coates abandoning his position on workers’ control. As for the failure of Robert Owen, I can only repeat that such failure did not prevent Marx from advocating the establishment of cooperatives up to his death and did not prevent him from saying that cooperatives were the transitional form of property between capitalism and socialism. Nor indeed did it prevent Engels up to the end writing that both he and Marx saw cooperatives as being needed on a wide scale in the transition to communism. And we have Marx going out of his way to distinguish his attitude from Owen. We also know that, although he disagreed with the actual method proposed by Bray, he thought a great deal about the general schema of workers taking ownership of the means of production put forward by Bray - as opposed to Owen’s followers.
If Jim can let us know how otherwise workers are to obtain ownership of the means of production, and thereby change the material forces required to bring about a change in social relations, without the kind of Leninist, top-down, statist political revolution that Marx railed against in the Critique of the Gotha programme, and that every time it has been attempted - and at the present time looks unlikely to win any supporters anyway - has led to some form of Stalinism, I would be glad to hear it.
The dissolution of the Campaign for a Marxist Party in Britain places in danger similar initiatives in other countries.
There needs to be agreement, of course, that our task is not to build a soft-left social democratic party with Marxist fringes, as several communist parties in Europe have become. But the label of the new party should not exclude revolutionaries simply because of the historical associations that many have against ‘Marxism-Leninism’ or other labels we tend to use. That is, a new party necessarily will involve comrades from different traditions who inevitably use their words differently, though they often have the same meaning. Obviously, we need to see much more discussion on the content of the future party, but not over labels.
However, I believe splits and dissolutions are inevitable if there is no joint praxis to give this discussion content. We are clearly in the greatest crisis of capitalism since 1929, but I see no proposals in the Weekly Worker to organise the unemployed, to stop lay-offs, to stop the cuts in services. The best political discussions I’ve had were when I was marching on the same picket line with a comrade I had some disagreement with. It’s hard to split with comrades from another tendency if we are fighting the scabs together.
I believe a new party will come out of the process of the new class struggle rather than expecting the class struggle to wait while we discuss forming that party.
As an ex-Healyite, I have to say that the Socialist Workers’ Party’s impending split is a very welcome development. The first thing I recognised after the Workers Revolutionary Party’s 1985 split was that the WRP, the SWP and the Millies (Militant Tendency) had very similar internal regimes; these were guru-led organisations which had their origins in the Stalinist, third period dogmatism of ultra-leftist gesture politics.
If you could not really make a difference in crisis-driven political situations, you could certainly impress your membership with revolutionary-sounding blasts that substituted. And you could cover rightist retreats with shrill leftist verbiage, denouncing all those who listened to workers’ concerns in order to tune their programme to material reality as reformists.
Even though it is surely necessary to have a category of candidate membership to prevent the revolutionary theory of the organisation - manifestly at odds with prevailing bourgeois values and culture - from being swamped by a sudden intake of new members, no real democracy was permitted to lower layers of these organisations.
Some would contend with excellent reason that the International Socialists/SWP are not Trotskyists at all, but at least they are centrists of Trotskyist origins. Nonetheless, they are the last of the three main historical trends that emerged from British Trotskyism to face its soul-searching split. Since 1985, serious observers have been anticipating this event. It is good that, given the profound crisis of global capitalism, it should happen now.
In a way, the WRP was the most ‘theoretical’ of the three, as it had a formal type of orthodoxy that seemed revolutionary and it did teach its members classical Marxist theory at quite a high level. But its ultra-leftism was combined with an opportunist capitulation to the Arab bourgeoisie (the ridiculous ‘objectively developing world revolution’, which enabled Iraqi communists to be shot to allow its unfolding) and deals to be made with the reformist radical labour bureaucracies represented by Ken Livingstone and Ted Knight, even if the former was clearly more opportunist than the latter.
The Millies emphasised theory also, but clearly at a less orthodox level. The Labour Party could never be transformed into a vehicle to introduce socialism via an enabling act, as they proposed in a reformist abandonment of a revolutionary perspective. The British army (even if you recruited them to a trade union) would shoot you as soon as you got your majority votes in parliament.
That is not to say that Healy was closer to the answer; in my view, the Thornett-Workers Socialist League split made the best contemporary attempt at elaborating a transitional programme of demands on labour leaders to educate a generation of fighters for their historic revolutionary tasks.
Significantly, the contemporaneous splits from the IS/SWP produced the most profound critiques of Trotskyist history. Workers Power, albeit with their own self-proclamatory sectarian outlook, became Trotskyist for a number of years under the influence of their first leader, Dave Hughes. The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, as it was to become, degenerated into a third-campist, right-moving, pro-Zionist group, but subsequent splits, like the International Trotskyist Committee/Revolutionary Internationalist League (ITC/RIL) and later the Workers International League/Leninist Trotskyist Tendency (WIL/LTT), made significant efforts to assert the transitional method and relate to the mass reformist consciousness of the workers by something other than self-proclamation and attempting to build new reformist halfway house organisations themselves (where they might get a better hearing on the left, but which left ordinary workers unimpressed).
Of the three historical trends, the SWP survived so long because of its low level of theory; surely what was primarily wrong with Respect was its blatant popular frontism, its bland assumption that there was nothing wrong with making alliances with petty bourgeois forces like the Muslim Association of Britain in order to defeat war and fascism. Once you grovel in this milieu (one councillor actually joined the Tories), then class politics, let alone historically evolved revolutionary principles, are totally abandoned. In other words, the SWP survived so long because the theoretical level of the organisation and membership was so low that the ideological onslaught of neoliberalism went over their heads until crass opportunism turned to bite them in the rear.
Surely, this split will present anew a radical rethink in the middle layers and newer membership; if any long-term leaders do anything other than reassert some version of the past errors it will be an enormous surprise to me, given the experience of the WRP and the Millies splits.