Once upon a time the Morning Star boasted that it was owned by its readers, not millionaires. Now I understand from David Lynch’s report that it is dominated by one reader and one reader alone. The multi-millionaire Anita Halpin (‘Return of star wars?’ January 15). She provides the finances and she will soon be calling the tune.
No-one in the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain is writing to the paper protesting and kicking up a fuss about the complete mockery this makes of any pretence at democratic control. Probably because subservience to the Stalinist bureaucracy which ruled the Soviet Union long since extinguished the last spark of democracy and revolutionary initiative. After all the Soviet state used to take half the paper’s daily print run and as a result would expect a loyal echo of its political line. I remember when the Morning Star editor, the colourless and eminently forgettable Tony Chater, cravenly greeted Mikhail Gorbachev as “today’s Lenin”.
But Halpin’s millions cannot breathe life into a publication, now under the editorship of former New Communist Party member Bill Benfield, that prostituted itself for longer than anyone cares to remember. The fact that many ‘personalities’ that inhabit today’s left write anodyne nonsense for it shows that the problems we face go deeper than the CPB rump and its two factions.
Tony Greenstein’s suggestion that imperialism can be made to withdraw its support for Israel if the price is made high enough is more daydreaming than reality (‘Between moral outrage and historical analysis’, January 8).
This type of view may be common on the left, but it ignores the most important reality of our time: that is, we have entered the period of world oil production peak. The looming oil crisis, which follows peak oil, is driving imperialism to intervene more in those regions which contain the remaining oil - or important oil supply routes, which include the Middle East. Based on this analysis, it is safe to conclude that imperialism will need Israel more, not less. In fact, defending Israel is the ‘perfect’ excuse for any future intervention in this region.
Most of the left and the least informed bourgeois commentators seem to imagine that the present economic crisis is a potential rerun of the 1930s great depression which followed the Wall Street crash. In the past, there were abundant supplies of very cheap oil. Unlike the 1930s, today’s economic crisis is superimposed on the inevitable energy crisis. This is the first time in history that capitalism faces an economic crisis happening in the same time as the world peak in oil production. For capitalism, this is more serious than the 1930s. Starting a world war or turning to fascism will not reverse conventional oil depletion, and no serious person in energy circles imagines that non-conventional oil production or biofuels can replace conventional oil loss.
The bourgeoisie is trapped between the contradictions of capitalist production and the iron law of oil depletion. Separately each of these two crises is bad news for capitalism: combined they spell disaster - although initially economic downturn will delay the energy crisis and mask the global peak in oil production.
Unfortunately, Marxist discourse at present is one-sided, seeing only the contradictions of capitalist production and its results, but not realising the worldwide significance of the oil production ceiling: the emergence of a peak oil economic crisis. This will spell the end of any sustained growth for capitalism, without which capitalism soon loses its cachet and ideological legitimacy. The new contradiction faced by the bourgeoisie is that capitalism needs constant growth to survive and divert the masses from seeking any alternative, but this requires increasing supplies of cheap oil. The peak in global oil production will undermine growth imperatives, leading to capitalism losing its ideological grip on the masses and important sections of the intelligentsia.
This is a world where capitalism will swing between depression and high energy prices, with every putative recovery sending oil prices spiralling out of control again, thus revealing the presence of global peak oil. Capitalism’s natural boom and bust cycles will come to an end and be followed by stagflation, made worst by collapsing oil production. The first oil shock in 1973 when Opec embargoed the west for supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur war provides a glimpse of where we are heading. This time the oil shortages will not be imposed by politics but geology.
With due respect to Mike Macnair, who, while defending capitalist consumerism, suggested last year that I wanted to impose Stalinist austerity on society, it seems that the choice facing humanity a few years hence is barbarism or socialism - the latter, barring a miracle or aliens coming down and sharing their energy secrets with us, will include a period of austerity resulting from the consequences of global peak oil, which will only be alleviated when we devise a new energy regime. This is not a vote winner, but I prefer some degree - or any degree - of austerity to barbarism.
Some people are in denial about the global peak in oil production and its social consequences, like they were about human-induced global warming, but burying one’s head in the sand, like the ostrich, will not make the problem go away.
The formerly anti-semitic British National Party has expressed support for Israel in the war against the Palestinians in Gaza.
Ruth Sneed of the Board of Deputies of British Jews stated: “The BNP website is now one of the most Zionist on the web - it goes further than any of the mainstream parties in its support to Israel and at the same time demonises Islam and the Muslim world.”
The head of the BNP, Nick Griffin, who was once a holocaust denier, says Israel is “the only civilised country in the region ... they are an example to us all because the only thing Islamic terrorists understand is force.”
The BNP head of legal affairs, Lee Barnes, says: “The sort of ‘disinfecting’ process whereby Israel is required to sterilise areas of radical Islamic support ... is what all nations have to do ...”
This heart-warming tribute to Zionism from British fascists shows a convergence of reactionary ideologies which once opposed each other.
Arthur Bough makes some interesting points, but his letter contains a bizarre error on 17th century English history - the statement that at the time of the English civil war “the vast majority of people continued to produce their means of existence on individual peasant farms” (Letters, January 8).
There may have been a few corners of the country in which this was the case, but in very large areas subsistence farming had already been replaced by market-integrated farming. A recent assessment is that “it seems likely that a substantial proportion - perhaps 20%, almost certainly more - of rural householders were landless by the mid-16th century, and that the proportion grew rapidly in the second half of the century” (J Whittle, ‘Tenure and landholding in England 1440-1580’, in BJP van Bavel and P Hoppenbrouwers (eds) Landholding and land transfer in the North Sea area Turnhout 2004, p245).
There is plenty of other evidence. Even where manorial controls on land engrossment by the larger farmers, peasant market activity, etc were maintained down to the civil war, the civil war led to their breakdown, as Star Chamber backing for manorial courts was removed: J Goodacre’s The transformation of a peasant economy (Aldershot 1994) and JE Martin’s Feudalism to capitalism (Basingstoke 1986) provide sample local studies.
Of course, it also happens to be the case that Marx, in the second part of Capital Vol 1, also saw the emergence of capitalism in connection with the enclosures, etc of the 16th-17th century. Comrade Bough is committing the very common error of refusing to recognise capitalist development unless it has the ‘pure’ characteristics of Marx’s abstractions in the first part of Capital Vol l and in Engels’ reconstructions from Marx’s notes in Vols 2 and 3. But such a capitalism not only has never existed: it does not exist now and never will; it is an abstraction for the purposes of grasping the underlying dynamics of really existing, impure capitalism.
The result is, of course, to make it impossible to see how capitalism emerges from feudalism.
The We Are All Gaza committee met in Cape Town on January 19 and has come up with suggestions for a way forward that we hope could possibly be coordinated on a world scale.
We suggest a focused boycott (this is over and above still pushing for workers’ sanctions against Israel and for an end to all trade, economic and social ties). At a time of heightened anger in the working class worldwide at the genocide in Gaza, we could press home some important lessons, namely the pivotal role of monopoly capital in the genocide.
Firstly, a targeted boycott of all Coca Cola products (seeing as it is mostly the working class who buy these products and this company has openly funded Israel).
Secondly, call for a boycott of Barclays Bank. Barclays is a shareholder of Raytheon, which supplies bunker busters to Israel, it has a commodity index that openly speculates in commodities and directly pushes up the price of oil and food, and it is also a major shareholder in Exxon Mobil. This boycott would take the form of asking people to close their accounts and shift their home and other loans from Barclays to other banks.
We would point out that all capitalist banks have their hands dripping in blood but the point is to highlight the direct complicity of Barclays rather than be a standard-bearer of any other capitalist bank. It would also show the interconnection between the banks and industry and how finance capital is really responsible for starving the masses of the world. A subtext to this would highlight that JP Morgan Chase, another Raytheon shareholder, should also be targeted, but we are not so sure how yet. The very raising of this limited campaign, in the context of the imperialist banks having been bailed out with workers’ money, will help increase the hatred among the working class for the banks.
Thirdly, we want to canvass opinion for an international day of mourning (a two to five-minute work stoppage) to condemn the massacres in Gaza. This would actually be an international general strike, albeit in the cover of a period of mourning. In other words, the mourning should be during work hours. This would emphasise that it was the international working class that forced the Israeli state to temporarily withdraw. It should highlight the need for a complete lifting of the blockade of Gaza, as well as taking up the call for a war crimes tribunal. We have no illusions in such a tribunal, but it amounts to taking the bourgeoisie at their word and exposing them.
We have not yet gone public on this and urgently seek a discussion with you as a unified international call would resonate very powerfully.
I was rather taken aback by your front page headline, which described Barack Obama as the “World’s #1 terrorist” (January 15).
No doubt it was intended to provoke a reaction, which I’m sure it will have achieved. However, I think that such an extreme accusation is a bit premature. I’m under no illusion that Obama will bring socialism to the United States or end imperialism, but he’s got to be an improvement on George W Bush.
Let’s give the guy a chance!
With his inauguration as US president, Barack Obama has ushered in a new era of world politics.
The main strategy of big business under the leadership of George W Bush was divide-and-rule, particularly Muslims from Christians and Jews - with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and indeed the orchestration of 9/11 beforehand as justification for those wars. In contrast, Obama pledged to unite members of those three religions, as well as Hindus - with the mention of the latter religion particularly significant after the terrorist atrocities in Mumbai (with Hinduism being the largest religion in India).
As well as uniting people of different religions, Obama is dedicated to uniting people of different races and classes. The old left mantras of the Democrats being solely a party of big business, and of the US president being the leader of western imperialism, are out of date, and socialists will render ourselves irrelevant if we keep repeating them and using such dogmatic attitudes as a guide to action.
Obama has given off mixed messages as to his strategy in the Middle East - supporting Israel and suggesting more troops in Afghanistan, while pledging to withdraw from Iraq and negotiate with the Iranian regime. What he actually does will largely be dependent on pressure from below and the balance of world forces. Writing him off as the “World’s #1 terrorist”, as James Turley did in last week’s Weekly Worker, is premature and naive, to say the least!
Obama is clearly genuine in what he is trying to do, and he is providing capitalism with its best hope of keeping control of the planet in these times of dire financial crisis.
On the Gaza rally of January 17 in Trafalgar Square the Weekly Worker’s front cover of Obama as ‘World’s #1 terrorist’ drew a good deal of attention and was an obvious selling point. Most people at the rally had followed American policy on the Middle East for a considerable time and fully expected Obama to be no different to previous presidents, so the article was pretty well received.
However, away from the rally, a very different reaction was apparent. Those who think of themselves as fair-minded, progressive and liberal have great expectations in Obama. He has succeeded in enveloping himself in the mantle of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King and is portraying himself as … fair-minded, progressive and liberal.
I suppose it is really a question of who we want and expect to sell to. The vanguard has no illusions in Obama; the mass most certainly has.
According to Ted North, “anarchism, riot after riot and ‘propaganda by deed’ do not offer a realistic line of advance” (‘A single bullet’, January 15). Instead, “for real progress to be made the workers must establish parties which really represent their historic interest.”
Really? Would that be like the original Marxist party of this kind, the Social Democratic one? Well, perhaps not, as they quickly became reformist (as anarchists predicted) and by 1914 their degeneration was such that even Lenin could not fail to notice it. Would it be a Bolshevik-style party? The one which opposed the soviets in 1905? The one whose Petrograd leaders opposed the demonstrations in February 1917, which led to the start of the revolution? The one whose bureaucracy Lenin spent most of 1917 fighting, violating his own organisational principles to get it to act? The one which seized power in October 1917 and quickly became (as anarchists predicted) the dictatorship over the proletariat?
So, perhaps, it is not “halfway house projects” which “are doomed to disappoint and fail”. Perhaps it is the whole Marxist notion of political parties. I would suggest that history proves beyond doubt that it is Marxism which leads “eventually [to] defeat”, while ensuring that there are few “futile gestures” along the way. After all, if the working class had listened to Marx, there would have been no Paris Commune.
While North attacks the notion of “riot after riot”, he also complains that because “there is no effective left alternative, KKE was able to take a lead in organising ... demonstrations in order to keep them safe and attempt to bring anti-state sentiments back under control”. So when the KKE opposes riots it is different than when North argues that “riot after riot” does “not offer a realistic line of advance”? Please explain the difference. If the KKE position is in “some senses analogous to the French Communist Party in 1968”, is the CPGB’s analogous to that of the Bolsheviks in February 1917?
I should note that few anarchists think that “riot after riot” is enough. The aim is to create popular organisations which can take the struggle onwards. As Kropotkin argued, “to make a revolution it is not, however, enough that there should be such risings - more or less successful. It is necessary that after the risings there should be left something new in the institutions, which would permit new forms of life to be elaborated and established.” The task of anarchists is to encourage these institutions, the new forms of popular self-organisation (such as federations of community and workplace assemblies), as well as influence the struggle with our ideas. We organise accordingly.
Rest assured, though, “Marxists will struggle alongside anarchists whenever our interests coincide.” Sadly for him, we “have no illusions” as to where Leninism leads (or our fate under it). Although it is nice to see a Marxist acknowledging that anarchists do not think the state is the main enemy, but that we also “hate capitalism and yearn for human liberation.” So, yes, “we ought to engage them in serious debate” - who knows, the Marxists may learn the lessons of history rather than repeating them?
I want to congratulate you for the excellent article by Jean-Michel Edwin discussing the latest developments on the far left in France (‘Left unity - at what cost?’, December 4 2008).
My own experiences of the Socialist Alliance and Respect in England, the Scottish Socialist Party and, more recently, Solidarity - Scotland’s Socialist Movement have convinced me of a number of things. These SSP and Solidarity experiences have some salutary lessons for the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire and New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) activists, who seem to have a model closer in spirit to the SSP one.
I used to think the SSP model - ie, full commitment to a 100% combat socialist party with platform rights for tendencies and members of former parties - was the model. I now think that it was exceptional, but not repeatable, compared to the European left experiences, where unity was achieved on a far less radical unity platform. In Europe they also had and have a much lesser degree of party centralisation and varying levels of commitment to discussing revolution vs reform.
Although the NPA is rightly being founded on an anti-capitalist but inclusive basis, I think it is a grave mistake for the leading Marxist current within it - indeed the one which has initiated and therefore shaped its direction and foundation, the LCR - to liquidate itself at the new party’s birth. The LCR should definitely not dissolve without forming itself as a tendency or fraction to continue to represent the LCR/Fourth International tradition overtly within the NPA.
More importantly the idea that the NPA could carry on the LCR’s functions within the FI is clearly suspect. The LCR’s leadership role in the FI gives it such dominance within it that liquidating one means liquidating both in practice. So if the FI functions were to be carried out by NPA functionaries, in practice the LCR/FI would continue to exist. How would that be accountable to the rest of the FI’s member groups in over 40 countries?
The very fact the LCR has existed for 40 years and managed in the last seven to achieve a significant degree of revolutionary regroupment and popular support around Besancenot’s candidature, shows that it is very possible and realistic to win workers directly to revolutionary and radical anti-capitalist ideas.
These gains are the result of the FI and LCR’s slow but steady left turn during and after the big strike waves in France in 1995. Prior to that the FI had crystallised a bankrupt rightwing form of regroupment with reformist forces to its right, during which its overtures were rejected because the LCR’s support was too small to be taken seriously by their reformist partners. Today it is different, as the reformists are now desperate to get into bed with the LCR and scupper the NPA project through its friends in the liquidationist Unir wing of the FI’s strongest party.
My worry is that, freed from their Marxist unity within the LCR, all former factions of the LCR will be obliged to form separate platforms within the broader anti-capitalist NPA. The likelihood is that the NPA’s formation, alongside the LCR’s liquidation, will lead to more fragmentation of the pro-NPA far-left currents. That will mean more of a bear pit for the independent leftists to negotiate when they join. There is therefore going to be less revolutionary unity and a greater danger of reformist and left pluralist degeneration if the LCR disappears.
It will be a licence for Christian Piquet’s LCR faction Unir to support the formation of a much broader left unity list with the considerably more sectarian Lutte Ouvrière and Parti Ouvrier Internationaliste on the one hand; with the opportunist governmental left leaderships of the Parti Communiste Français (PCF), Parti de la Gauche (PG) and even elements of the Parti Socialiste (PS), which Jean-Michel Edwin describes, on the other.
The formation of the PG is a spoiler attempt to sabotage the possibility of the NPA becoming a serious force - to siphon off some of its potential recruits in order to build up enough forces to later on dilute the radical nature of any future left unity project. It has one ultimate purpose: to stop the process pointing towards building an anti-capitalist basis for unity - towards a revolutionary party. The defence of the NPA as an anti-capitalist bloc is a better guarantee of its progress towards revolution and away from reform. It is better for a united NPA to develop first and then talk with the left bourgeois workers’ parties later.
A major reason I resigned from Solidarity in November 2007 was because it didn’t take seriously enough my concerns on race and racism, and the need to win the class struggle within the black and minority ethnic ‘communities of resistance’. The role of race in class politics is perhaps even more important in France in the formation of the far left because of the rebellions in the banlieues which brought Sarkozy to power in 2006. However, they also exposed the French far left - especially LO, but also sections of the LCR, known for their atheist sectarianism against the religious sentiments of the Muslim Arab and African minorities in French cities - as deeply Islamophobic thus incapable of orienting to a significant percentage of the urban working class.
Then there’s the mass struggle of the sans papiers movement of migrant workers demanding trade union and citizenship rights, which really began in France in the early 1990s. Just where are the leaders of these struggles in the deliberations of the anti-capitalist left? Where is there any mention of this in the NPA’s outline programme? I demand that any new left party that wants my community’s support has to understand race and class and to include the leaders of anti-racist struggles as a core part of any left unity project.
Unless the Marxists of all varieties make what I might call the ‘Marxist bloc’ tactic against the reformist currents that will inevitably join to frustrate and strangle the party, they will not succeed in creating the political space for a revolutionary workers’ democracy to emerge within the new anti-capitalist and left parties.