At Conway Hall on February 15, Torab Saleth gave a most interesting presentation under the auspices of Hands Off the People of Iran. Sadly, only about 20-25 people were present, though it warranted many more. I took it that people in the audience were largely the CPGB and their periphery.
The content of the talk overlapped with his Weekly Worker article (‘Islamic revolution or counterrevolution’, February 12). In general, it was excellent, as he concentrated on the revolution and its immediate aftermath, bringing out very clearly the betrayals of both the Tudeh and guerrillaist left. The latter, heroic as they may have been, lacked any class analysis of the situation. (Not everyone in the audience seemed to understand this - such lessons have constantly to be relearned.)
We seem to see here merely a sort of 19th century left radicalism that Marx himself denounced and struggled against, no matter how much the various Maoist-type currents drape themselves with fiery Marxist whiskers. Basically, both groups were popular frontists and lacked any clear class strategy in a most promising situation.
Although Torab Saleth was not at all sectarian and did not bring it up, it has to be said that a large section of the so-called Trotskyist ‘left’, such as the United Secretariat (or ‘Disunited Sectarians’, as my friend Al Richardson used to call them) were not a great deal, if at all, better. They were not, of course, guerrillaist themselves (guerrilla activity was illegal, after all) but simply cheer-led such tendencies so that they were totally disarmed politically when the crunch came. Even so, their forces and those of everyone else with a half-decent approach were so small that in such a revolutionary situation they probably had little chance.
One can compare this with France and Italy at the close of World War II or at the time of the Renault strike of 1947. Then the workers and broad masses of people had illusions in Russia and the Stalinists, but in Iran it was ‘Islamic socialism’ and Khomeini. A certain minimum number of cadre is a necessity if you hope to make a revolution and a few hundred is insufficient. It probably needs to be a few tens of thousands, or at least several thousand very capable people, in a country of Iran’s size.
The repression, of course, has been quite appalling, but, as in Stalin’s Russia, consolidated by genuine reforms such as education, particularly for women, and welfare in the rural areas (the opposite of the USSR, where the countryside was the scene of real horrors). In my view, Torab Saleth rather underplayed the role that these reforms must have had in maintaining support for the regime, though he mentioned the enormous parasitic patronage machine, which also plays a very significant part.
The figures for the repression that Torab Saleth gave were 40,000 shot and six million in exile. Most of these last, he emphasised, were workers, not intellectuals. But, if there were indeed 40,000 shot - about 20-30 every day for four or five years - then it would have been quite possible to have counted all those shot if they have been listed in the daily papers, as I was told that they were when I was in Iran last October. Thus, there would be a full record. If so, that must have more or less wiped out everyone who was at all active or semi-active in the guerrilla or intellectual left - both those regarding themselves as from the Marxist traditions and those from the Islamic traditions, unless they got away to exile. That would have been a real counterrevolution. Six million political refugees does seem a lot. Perhaps there have been six million emigrants, though even that huge number - 5-10% of the population - I would doubt, and not all of those can have left their country for political reasons.
Where I have considerable doubts about Torab Saleth’s analysis - and clearly he has been out of the country for a long time - was when he spoke about the possibilities and mood today. It is very easy for exiles to overestimate internal disaffection and internal opposition, and history shows that this is often the case: ‘If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.’ There is no doubt cynicism and perhaps increasing dislike of the god-botherers, so, hopefully, the mullahs may be creating a layer of real anti-clerical mosque-burners. But there is also the huge unemployment rate - possibly 20% or even more - and the working class is massaged by the patronage machine, run by the mosque, which provides the welfare.
There are isolated events, of course, such as the busmen’s strike around Christmas 2007, but my guess is that among the population as a whole there must surely be not merely cynicism about the government, but a feeling that they have had it with politics. The war and its dreadful casualties, together with the appalling slaughter of the oppositionists, plus the massive emigration, must have knocked the stuffing out of them for a bit. Perhaps what will change things is the loss of oil revenue, but what will emphatically not weaken the ayatollahs is the American economic and political pressure, which will, if anything, consolidate this unpleasant regime. And that is why I support Hopi.
Down with the ayatollahs! Smash the sanctions! Stop American and Israeli aggression! Silence lap-dog Britain’s pathetic Millibandist yelps of support for the US! Not that the latter, even if achieved, would help much, of course, so unimportant is this country and its foreign policy in the Middle East.
Students at the University of Manchester broke up a stall promoting the arms trade. The ‘Defence, Science and Technology Laboratory’, which is a ministry of defence company, was attempting to lure young scientists to come and help devise new weapons that would no doubt be used across the world. The students wore high-visibility jackets with ‘UMSU health and safety inspectors’ on and they picked up all of the company’s material, including a massive poster bearing an MOD symbol and a massive explosion in the background.
After removing the militarist propaganda, students were chased across campus by security staff, aided by the police. As students took refuge in the student union building, two activists were detained, but they were quickly ‘de-arrested’ by around 30 students.
Again, Manchester students have shown that they are unwilling to allow the military-industrial complex to recruit and propagate murder on campus. Manchester Communist Students will continue to support actions against the military and stand in solidarity with anyone who is disciplined over this action.
I read with some frustration Jim Moody’s article on the climate debate (‘Blowing smoke or clean coal’, February 5). I note he is urging discussion towards your party’s Draft programme - I do hope you consider extensive discussions with workers in the energy industry before reaching any conclusions.
As it stands, Jim’s contribution is little more than a utopian wish list. Can we at least have a nod in the direction of Marxism and start from where we actually are and proceed from the objective facts, not day dreams?
Coal production has doubled in the last 15 years. It will double again by 2020. Coal reserves outstrip oil, gas and uranium by almost 200 years. Coal can produce both gas and oil. So we can say with utter confidence coal will be burned. That is a fact. If it is burned without carbon capture it will be a major contributor to global warming - it comes behind deforestation, cattle production and transport. So carbon capture has to work: has to be made to work wherever coal is burned.
The forecast made by Jim about the massive expansion of coal power stations worldwide and the resulting increase in pollution will only come about if the world does not develop clean-coal technology and carbon capture. This ought to be a major feature and demand in your Draft programme. Stopping the world producing and burning coal, even in the event of a successful socialist revolution, just isn’t on the cards, comrade.
Jim makes no mention of the fact that my own colliery is one which the Weekly Worker and CPGB have had long-term contacts with. Hatfield Main is currently developing the most efficient clean-coal technology in the world - a hydrogenisation system which removes 90% of all pollutants and 100% of Co2. The technology from this system can be expanded worldwide if there is political and class pressure to implement it. Imagine this, Jim: it is being built in Doncaster and should be on stream by 2012.
Deep-mined coal in Britain actually accounts for about 7-8 million tonnes, as against the 55-60 million tonnes produced before the mine closure programme. Despite this, British power stations still consume the 60 million tonnes we used to produce. Surely a minimum demand should be that we are allowed to mine our own coal in our own backyard to burn in our own power stations. The fact is, of course, they aren’t ours and until they are this is unlikely to happen - so workers’ control of the mining and energy industries must be in your Draft programme too.
I really fail to see how any communist programme for the here and now can demand an end to coal consumption.
Arthur Lawrence wrongly charges me with “Stalinist thinking” (Letters, February 19), but the SPD did not avert Hitler’s phase of capitalism, so Stalin’s Red Army liberated Auschwitz and captured Berlin.
Whereas Zizek writes of Stalin “rescuing humanity” in his 2008 book In defence of lost causes, maybe Buddhism is more likely to do so, even if impermanently.
Yes, I have noted the Marxist view of religion. Buddhism and Marxism do not rely on theism, but on donations.
I liked Dave Vincent’s article on the debate over a workers’ wage in the Public and Commercial Services union (‘Representing the members’, February 19). The Socialist Party is proud of the record of ex-Militant MPs like Dave Nellist in handing over a good slice of their income to the movement, but actually argues against the same principle in the union where they have the most influence.
Having said that, if I was a PCS member, I wouldn’t go along with the Independent Left in voting for John Moloney on the basis of his support for a workers’ wage. Is this the same John Moloney who is a member of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, which would excuse an Israeli attack on Iran? I would rather vote for an SP-type opportunist than a social-imperialist.
On another question, I don’t think comrade Vincent should be “wobbled” by the argument against recallability made by the SP - that a union officer who is voted out might not get their job back. It should be part of every union representation agreement with management that any rep elected to a union post should have their job kept open. Many employers have long accepted this in their union recognition arrangements.
James Turley’s article last week about the young-looking teenage father was a good commentary on who said what and why, and who did what (‘Dad scandal and patriarchy’, February 19).
However, the conclusion was very weak. The summation was that society should be in essence less uptight and individuals should enjoy their sexuality. This is perhaps a result of what was omitted and specifically about a lack of theory about different cultures and their approach to sex. It does not do any harm being prescriptive if what you propose is backed up by research. And there is a wealth of research about different cultures in different times.
It is surprising, therefore, that James did not quote Engels, who was inspired by Marx after reading Lewis Morgan. This, and other ethnographic research - from Bronislaw Malinowski, for example, who found that the nuclear family was not universal - deflated Victorian ideas about their culture being the height of civilisation. The implication of these ideas, a sexual communism, was attacked by Malinowski himself, who for political reasons raised the spectre of the Bolshevik threat.
The recent episode can be seen as upholding Christian values, a nuclear family - all the things that cause many of the problems in society. Problems such as the attitude towards teenage pregnancy, male violence and prostitution. For the commentators that James highlights there is no alternative. However, there is a rich history of research that needs to be revived to show that there is an alternative.
I’m a communist from Munich, Germany -a member of Sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiter-Jugend, the youth organisation of the German Communist Party (DKP).
In the 12th/13th grade, I have to write a Facharbeit (skilled work) and I’m going to write about the financial crisis in London for my geography Leistungskurs (advanced, intensive course).
There isn’t much information in Germany about London’s financial crisis, so I would be very pleased if I could get some information from comrades in Britain. If you have details of redundancies (when and where people were fired, what sectors, how many, etc), please send them to me, because I want to make a map showing the rate of redundancies. I also have to write about why London has been hit so hard by the financial crisis, in combination with the geographical and industrial aspects of Britain.
I will be visiting London in September and would be interested in meeting up with comrades based there. Perhaps they could also give me information that isn’t available electronically, such as statistics, flyers or newspapers.
Two weeks ago I gave a presentation on the aftermath of the British financial crisis, using data from the official national statistics website. As I’m a communist, I know that such statistics aren’t real, because they euphemise the real situation, just as they do in Germany.
I would be very pleased and happy if you could help me.
Jean-Michel Edwin’s assessment of the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) in France is profoundly mistaken and I think that he should draw the conclusions from what he reports (‘Everything to play for’, February 12).
When he says that the NPA “received a big boost from the media coverage, with all television channels, daily papers and weekly magazines focusing to a greater or lesser degree on its founding congress”, he might ask himself why the NPA is the darling of the media. Has it nothing to do with the NPA’s ambition to “turn the page of the old working class movement”, as its leader, Olivier Besancenot, himself explained - ie, be anything but a working class party?
In the same article, Jean-Michel Edwin deals with the NPA’s position in the coming European elections: “However, the NPA leadership is likely to reject a common list with the [Parti Communiste Français] and [Parti de Gauche] for mainly electoral considerations ... If the NPA really did win 8%, that would entitle it to a large slice of French/EU financial support.” What is this ‘new party’ that does not rely on the money collected by its members, sympathisers and supporters, but on the money given by the capitalist apparatus of the state and the EU (just like the Party of the European Left)?
Jean-Michel Edwin himself perhaps gives the key to the reason why the media are so keen on Besancenot when he refers to “the fiery anti-capitalist rhetoric that we (and the media) have come to expect of him”. Behind the anti-capitalist rhetoric is a party that intends to break with the old working class movement, with the conscious moves made by the working class to be organised against exploitation, a party that has no journal and no international affiliation.
At this point you may wonder why I have been a subscriber to the Weekly Worker for some time now, even though I am highly critical of the position put forward on my own country. Let me tell you I am a retired teacher of English and have always been very much interested in the British political scene, not contenting myself with the usual platitudes found in the media. The other reason, as you might guess, is that I am a political activist, a member of the POI (Parti Ouvrier Indépendant). I read the Weekly Worker (and a few other journals) because I find in it useful information, interesting debates and views I might agree with, even if I disagree with the general line expressed in the paper.
It is true that, unlike the NPA, the POI is totally ignored by the media, even when, for example, it holds a 4,000-strong rally in Paris (which took place on the day the NPA was founded) to conclude a European workers’ conference convened to develop the struggle for the repeal of the European Court of Justice’s judgments in the Laval, Viking and Ruffert cases. The conference was attended by 150 delegates from 21 European countries.
In fact, it is the EU and all its treaties and directives that encourage the bosses to enforce deregulation and flexibility and the race to the bottom. But maybe the people who took part in the conference and myself would be called “Europhobes” by Jean-Michel Edwin. Obviously, he uses the term for those who, like the POI, want a break with the EU. However, Jean-Michel Edwin is right when he says that this is not a prerequisite for a united campaign to ban all lay-offs (‘Challenge of left unity’, February 5).
By the same token, the workers at the Lindsey oil refinery might also be denounced as “Europhobes”, although the Weekly Worker quite rightly gave its (critical) support to the strike. Why then does Jean-Michel Edwin find it necessary to rehash the time-honoured confusion between Europe (as a continent) and the EU institutions, whose only purpose, right from the beginning in the 50s (just ask the sacked miners and steelworkers in the Lorraine region, where I live), has always been to undermine the rights and gains won by the organised working class in each country and to impose the rules of “free and undistorted competition” on the workers of Europe?
Bob Davies just goes round in diminishing circles and in doing so he increasingly argues like an anarchist. The American revolution and its “half democratic” constitution is lightmindedly dismissed as nothing but a “sop” (Letters, February 19).
Clearly he fails to grasp the huge significance of the 1775-83 American revolution, not least how it affected Europe. A continent which at the time languished under despotic, semi-feudal regimes. No freedom of the press. No freedom of speech. No freedom of religion.
Even Britain, famed at the time for its liberty, was the private fief of the monarch, the aristocracy, the church and the top sections of the bourgeoisie. The electorate was minuscule. In 1831 no more than 200,000 people. Naturally for our lords and masters even the word ‘democracy’ was a complete anathema. It meant lawlessness, the rule of the great unwashed and carried an implicit threat to the sacred rights of property.
That is what made the American revolution so thrilling, so shocking and so dangerous. The US republic really was the land of bourgeois liberty. There was freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion. The second amendment even enshrined the right of every citizen to bear arms. And, horror of horrors, its politicians had to win the votes of the common herd in order to get into office. In 1791 Vermont, the 14th state, passed groundbreaking legislation abolishing property qualifications and religious bars, thereby giving all male citizens the vote. In the years that followed other states bowed to mass pressure and did the same. Given the historic period, a huge step forward.
In the Europe of kings and queens it was dynamite. And there can be no doubting that America provided a model for the great French Revolution of 1789 and the revolutionary wave of 1848.
True, no black slaves, no women and no native Americans could vote. There were also all manner of checks and balances put into the constitution by the merchants, bankers, ship-owners, planters, slave traders and slave owners, land speculators and lawyers - the founding fathers - to protect their interests and guard against too much popular control from below - that is why Marxists argue that US democracy was incomplete or, to use another phrase, was a “half democracy”.
Not that universal suffrage and the removal of constitutional checks and balances against control from below would bring about general human emancipation. Marxists are clear on that. While there are classes and inequalities of property and occupation, money will impose its domination.
As I have shown, Marx himself looked at the American revolution positively. Nowhere did he characterise the gains made by those below as a mere “sop”. For Marx the American revolution represented a substantial advance along the road towards general human emancipation. Hence his glowing description of the US as the “most progressive nation”.
Marx urged support for Abraham Lincoln and the north against the slaveholders’ revolt. His comrades in America - many of them exiled Germans and veterans of 1848 - campaigned for Abraham Lincoln in 1860. And very successfully too. There were well over a million German Americans. One of the largest national groups in America after the English and Scots.
With the start of the civil war many of the German American ‘red 48ers’ enlisted in the union army. Nearly 25% of its men were of German origin. A number of regiments were exclusively or mainly German and they earnt a particular reputation for exceptional discipline and courage. The highest ranking German American officer was the red 48er, Franz Sigel (1824-1902), a close ally of Lincoln’s who rose to become a major general.
Marxists.org has collected together the writings of Marx and Engels on the civil war and they are more than worth a read. It is interesting to see how the Marx-Engels team skilfully predicted the outcome of events, even from the start of hostilities. They thoroughly exposed the role of Britain and how the ruling classes wanted to back the southern slavocracy. They fully understood the significance of Lincoln’s preliminary emancipation proclamation in September 1862. It would change the civil war into a revolutionary war. The appearance of black troops made a huge impact north and south.
Marx saw the conflict as one of “slavery versus free labour” and dismissed confederate claims to be a nation. On the contrary, ‘the south’ was a “battle slogan” and its war was designed to spread and perpetuate slavery.
After Lincoln was re-elected president, Marx wrote congratulating him on behalf of the First International: “From the commencement of the titanic American strife the workingmen of Europe felt instinctively that the star-spangled banner carried the destiny of their class.” (Letter, January 28 1865).
The strategy was clear: defend, extend and complete US democracy. The growth in the number of slave states threatened to reduce workers and small farmers to “helotry”. On the other hand, unleashing the slave revolution in the south would pose the question of ending wage-slavery in the north.
In reply to my brief outline of Marx’s overall approach to the US comrade Davies curtly states that “Enso White is wrong”. Marx should not be treated as a divine authority. But I do think his ideas deserve something more serious than that.
Finally, according to comrade Davies, the “historical period was not one that somehow limited revolutionary change”. Anarchist, yes, but completely unMarxist. I do not argue that more could not have been achieved in the late 18th century. Even greater rights could have been won. Constitutional barriers to popular involvement reduced or removed. However, at best that would have produced an agrarian democracy. In 1790 some 90% of the workforce was agricultural. Even in 1870 the figure still stood at over 50%. Most being small farmers.
Material circumstances and the development of the productive forces matter. General human emancipation was impossible in the late 18th century. Full capitalist development and the arrival of the working class as the leading force in society had yet to come.