I enjoyed Mike Macnair’s article on the crisis and workers’ programmes (‘Crisis and defensive demands’, January 8).
I disagree with a lot of Mike’s economic analysis - the dollar is world reserve currency due to the size of the US economy, not US military power, and one of the features of the previous period was the ‘carry trade’ borrowing in Japanese yen, not US dollars, for instance. But I agree entirely with his conclusion that what is required is to focus on the rebuilding of working class solidarity at the base - ie, the trade unions, cooperatives and so on. However, I have difficulty in seeing how the demands and suggestions that Mike then raises fit into that conclusion.
Mike is right to criticise those who put forward a series of demands aimed at the bourgeois state as a workers’ programme. Actually, I and others (at the Commune, for example) have argued that the AWL’s programme falls more into this camp than into the traditional ‘transitional programme’ camp. He is also right to distinguish between these kinds of appeals to the bourgeois state and workers’ demands in relation to the trade union laws, etc. But I am not sure that in his actual explication Mike’s method is really that different.
For example, he correctly tells us that the labour movement is weak - and he is absolutely right to warn that any idea that a severe crisis could then be good for workers is nonsensical - but, given that, the question that arises is: who is going to introduce the abolition of the anti-union laws? The only people in a position to do so are Gordon Brown and his government! Now, Mike might argue, as Permanent Revolution and others do, that raising this demand will convince workers of the nature of Brown’s government. But I then have to ask Mike if he really does believe that there are large numbers of workers out there who think that Brown’s government is a ‘red in tooth and claw’ socialist administration ready to implement such policies if only workers demand them, and who need to be divested of this delusion by such a campaign? If there are such workers, I have yet to meet them.
Most of the other specific demands that Mike raises are similar. On housing, for example, what the vast majority of workers want is workable solutions for the here and now. It is difficult to see who is going to effectively fight for the demands that Mike raises within the context of this terribly weak labour movement, and indeed what any of them have to do with actually achieving what he concludes is necessary to build that base level solidarity. It is, in my opinion, pie in the sky to think that large numbers of workers are going to be attracted to a solution that involves a long drawn-out difficult campaign for changes in legislation.
But there are plenty of examples of workers not only forming their own organisations of solidarity to resolve such problems - for example, the creation of tenants and residents’ associations, and credit unions. Indeed, there are plenty of examples of workers creating their own cooperative housing associations and, as research shows, cooperative housing is the most efficient form of housing in Britain. I have given details, and links on this in my blog at http://boffyblog.blogspot.com. If we are about building base-level solidarity, as Mike suggests, then it is these practical solutions to workers’ immediate problems that should form the backbone of any programme.
Mike Macnair tells us: “… we are still in the ‘crisis’ phase of the cycle. The capitalist business cycle naturally follows a ‘sawtooth’ pattern: a gradual rise of economic activity, accelerating in the boom period and then slowing slightly as this period comes to an end, followed by financial and credit crisis and a rapid and disorganised fall, the phase of ‘crisis’ proper.”
The business cycle is part of the history of capitalism, yet the scale of this crisis is unprecedented. We are witnessing the unwinding of the shadow banking system that has monetised the real economy to the extent that it has been mortgaged and remortgaged in the form of derivatives and expanded well beyond the world’s gross domestic product. Derivatives have bypassed ordinary concepts of ownership, as the casino market has been de-collateralised.
Madoff’s $50 billion fraud is only the tip of the iceberg. The boom became a massive over-extended bubble built on the deregulation and criminalisation of the economy beyond the normative legalised robbery of surplus value. The central banks involved in the bail-outs are little more than clearing houses for this laundered money.
Commodity production itself will find it hard to survive the bets and counter-bets that are being made on the sinking economy. The pound will sink quicker than the dollar, yet the death dance of zombie banks is not merely a sign of depression, but the disintegration of these economies. Depression implies some degree of what the bourgeois economists call ‘correction’.
Obama’s trillion-dollar stimulus package is for infrastructure that will support ever decreasing production levels, and a deskilled population that was previously centred on the housing market. Last year we saw gold go into unprecedented backwardation, which is a sign that the warehouses are emptying, while there is a shipping crisis directly linked to the banks cutting lines of credit to the industry. The ground is being set for hyperinflation, as the money supply is entering into the arena of ‘quantitative easing’: ie, printing money.
Defensive measures ought to include joining the euro, which will become the only currency still trusted as the pound sinks. Yet this can only be part of a strategy that puts workers and community defence committees on the agenda. The point is not only to predict the depth of this crisis but to prepare for the battle against the coming super-exploitation of workers in our ‘own’ country, not only in the short but the long term. This super-exploitation will be embodied in taxation by inflation.
In his reply (‘Sects, states and soviets’, November 27 2008) to my criticism of his book (‘Succumbing to reformism’, October 30) comrade Mike Macnair notes that I was a member of Healy’s Workers Revolutionary Party.
Somewhat surprisingly, he sees similarities between the WRP and the Japan Revolutionary Communist League. As someone who has had first-hand knowledge of both these organisations, I can state categorically that the WRP and the JRCL are as unlike as chalk is from cheese. For the following reasons:
Firstly. Healy’s WRP was run on the basis of bureaucratic centralism. Members were not allowed to form factions within the organisation. Further, any member who disagreed with Healy was liable to be expelled. In contrast to this, the JRCL is run on the lines of democratic centralism. Members are entitled to form factions within the organisation if they disagree with the leadership and to use these to change policy and tactics. Within the JRCL there is a vigorous internal life.
Secondly. In Healy’s WRP it was customary to take militants out of the working class movement and send them to work in the bureaucratic party apparatus, which often became divorced from the class struggle. In contrast to this, the JRCL encourages comrades to directly participate in the struggles in the class in such a way as to turn the rank and file against the trade union bureaucracies.
Thirdly. The WRP was run by Healy and his close associates. The activity of rank-and-file members were, in general, restricted to selling the WRP’s daily paper and to collecting money for it. In contrast to this, the JRCL makes every effort to raise the political consciousness of what are termed the “lower echelons” and to constantly minimise the gap in political understanding between leaders and led.
Fourthly. Healy sought to build all sorts of unprincipled alliances with anti-communist elements such as Gaddafi of Libya and Saddam Hussain. In contrast, the JRCL would only cooperate with those who genuinely had the interests of the working class at heart.
Fifthly. Healy never made any genuine contribution to Marxist theory. In contrast, Kuroda, the founder of the JRCL, has made many contributions, mainly centred on the question of what communists have to do in order to prepare the working class for revolution.
Comrade Mike asserts that ‘the semi-clandestine nature’ of the Japan Revolutionary Communist League (Revolutionary Marxist Faction), sometimes referred to as the JRCL-Kakumaru, was due to factional infighting with the JRCL-Chukaku. It is therefore necessary to set the record straight.
In 1962 a split took place within the JRCL. On the one hand there was what became the JRCL (RMF) led by Kuroda. On the other there was what became the Bukuro or the JRCL-Chukaku faction.
Shortly after this split members of the JRCL-Chukaku faction murdered a member of the JRCL (RMF). This caused the JRCL (RMF) to organise its own self-defence. However, despite hostility between the factions the fact is that the 78 JRCL comrades who were assassinated were killed by the secret police. It is definitely not the case, as comrade Mike asserts, that the killings were due to “minority violence”. Fortunately a few years ago the JRCL (RMF) was strong enough to launch a counter-attack against state forces, running a sustained campaign in the factories. As a result of this the assassinations were put on hold.
Comrade Mike has categorised the JRCL as a sect. Nothing could be further from the truth. A sect in the working class movement is an organisation with little or no contact with the working class. In fact, the JRCL has deep and extensive roots in the Japanese working class. It also has the absolute leadership of Zengakuren, the student movement. Its international influence is growing. There is much that we in Britain can learn from the JRCL and its international associates.
In the Socialist Workers Party pre-conference Internal Bulletin, Lindsey German claims that “the party” has many achievements to be proud of: “We have led the biggest mass movement in British history over the war and have been central to other united fronts against fascism and in defence of council housing.”
And precisely what has been achieved? The wars have continued, the warmongers-in-chief on both sides of the Atlantic were re-elected in 2004 and 2005, and the “mass movement” has shrivelled into irrelevance. Despite its own internal struggles, the British National Party still has a strong presence in many local authorities (including one member of the Greater London Assembly) and looks set to make further gains in the future. And, finally, council housing is almost totally non-existent (who would really want to have a council bureaucrat as their landlord anyway?).
No doubt the delusional SWP and the orthodox left will continue to pat themselves on the back, as radical, progressive politics continues to wither away in the UK.
I agree with Gerry Downing’s analysis (Letters, January 8). The SWP’s impending split is a very welcome development. Gerry Downing is also right to say that the Workers Revolutionary Party, the SWP and the Militant Tendency were guru-led organisations based on ultra-leftist gesture politics.
As an ex-Grantite, I have to say that the Militant Tendency had what psychiatrists would describe as a ‘split personality’. On the one hand, Ted Grant’s organisation produced first-class and robust socialist parliamentarians such as Terry Fields, Pat Wall and Dave Nellist. On the other, it produced opportunists such as Tommy Sheridan and Derek Hatton - the latter now a wealthy estate agent and property developer based in Cyprus.
Perhaps the global downturn will produce new cadres of the calibre of Fields, Wall and Nellist. Only time will tell.
Gerry Downing is not only profoundly mistaken, but should be ashamed of himself for wanting the SWP to split.
The SWP membership should embolden themselves and purge the SWP of the rotten elements. It is people like John Rees, Lindsey German, Chris Nineham and their supporters who have caused the most damage to the SWP. So it is this faction that should be purged as soon as possible. Otherwise the SWP does risk repeating the mistakes of Militant and the WRP.
Earl Gilman hopes that a “new party will come out of the process of the new class struggle” (Letters, January 8). Really?
Let’s face reality. There is no class struggle. And it would take a pretty deep recession to create one. A bit of class struggle would be welcome, but nobody seems up for it any more. Recent job losses have been accepted with little real resistance.
Anyway, the radical left will just keep splitting. Again and again it will divide into more factions. Just look at Respect’s divisions. Even when it actually got an MP elected, it fell apart. Modest success just gets thrown away.
Is this a plea to vote Labour? Well, yes. At least things get a bit better and the Tories will stay out of power. Let’s reconnect with reality.
The Weekly Worker’s January 8 front cover headline - “Israeli politicians have strategy of more ethnic cleansing” - reads like a leftwing version of The Sun and forgets that, from the Israeli government’s viewpoint, the objective is to stop Hamas aggression towards Israel. Remember that Israelis were ‘ethnically cleansed’ from Gaza when Israel unilaterally pulled out in the expectation that this would boost the peace process. Hamas is the Islamist wing of the Palestinians and its charter advocates war and the destruction of Israel.
My concern about comrade Tony Greenstein is that his ‘one-state’ strategy to socialism does not correspond to the actual balance of political forces (‘Between moral outrage and historical analysis’, January 8). Even Moshé Machover, in his interview in the same edition of Weekly Worker, cannot identify the socialist forces in the Palestinian camp (‘Hell for Palestinians’). But, presumably, it is the job of socialists and communists to support the ousting of Hamas as an obstacle to peace and socialism. Comrade Greenstein’s ultra-left proposal, I fear, would lead not to a peaceful unitary state, but to another Islamic revolution à la 1979, setting back the cause of socialism by many decades.
Comrade Greenstein’s binary thinking also leads him to suggest that Zionism and Nazism both opposed and/or hated Yiddish culture on the same basis. Again, this is a false equivalisation. Zionism, as a nationalist movement, made the mistake of arguing for one national language, just as most nation-states tend to (including the British Isles, where English is dominant over other indigenous languages). But, while Zionism may have considered Yiddish ‘old hat’, Nazism wanted the liquidation of all Jewish culture.
Zionism is a nationalist answer and I do not believe that it is the answer, or the solution, as comrade Greenstein thinks. But a two-state solution is a basis for cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians and, from this basis, when Islamism (Hamas, etc) has been defeated by socialist and other democratic parties, the choice of some sort of Middle East socialist version of the European Union might emerge for the pooling of sovereignty and resources, and supporting human rights.
This seems to me to be a much more probable scenario and it avoids the problem of tail-ending Islamism, which many groups on the far left are doing, instead of arguing for democratic socialism. Right now there is a need for a Palestinian leadership that can support the peace process and stop the rockets and suicide bombers. This will take the wind out of the sails of the hawks in the Israeli government and restart the negotiations.