It was good to see Andrew Northall’s mature response to Frank Willis’s venomous attack on his original contribution to the debate on the ‘No to EU, Yes to Democracy’ campaign (Letters, May 14). However, I would argue that most of the criticisms of the current campaign miss the point entirely.
Firstly, there can be no equivalence between the freedom of capital to move across national frontiers and the ‘freedom’ of labour to do the same. Marx made it quite clear that there was no balance in the contract between the capitalist employer purchasing labour-power and the proletariat forced to sell it in order to survive. Similarly, the real freedom of choice that the capitalist has in the current deregulated global economy to invest their capital where it would yield the greatest profit cannot be put on the same basis as the need of the proletariat to seek employment wherever it is to be found.
The ‘freedom’ of the proletariat to cross national borders is in reality a coerced movement - in effect, a wage-slave trade no less invidious because of its supposedly ‘voluntary’ nature. It is the consequence of the ‘push’ of poverty and/or political oppression, and the ‘pull’ of usually false dreams and promises of wealth and success elsewhere.
The ‘freedom’ of the worker to migrate is also an individual bourgeois right that needs to be considered against a socialist collective responsibility to remain where they are in the midst of their own family and the community that have ‘invested’ social capital in their upbringing. The impact of the migration of the most energetic, intelligent and hard working young men and women from their homes is devastating upon those left behind. The depopulation of Ireland and the highlands of Scotland gave enough of an example to Marx and Engels in their day of the wholesale destruction of long-established communities.
No individual worker has a ‘right’ to desert their own community and enter another in order to undercut and divide the recipient society. Every worker, whatever their background, should be welcomed in another country so long as they abide by the hard-won terms and conditions established by the working class already settled on that territory.
The second issue that has raised its head is the idealist argument that national consciousness does not really exist and, where it does, it is inevitably reactionary. Lenin in 1914 and 1915 wrote a series of articles on the national question and the slogan ‘For a United States of Europe’. In these he made it quite clear that every nation has two cultures - one that is reactionary and one that is progressive.
In the article ‘On the national pride of the great Russians’, he argued: “Is a sense of national pride alien to us, great Russian class-conscious proletarians? Certainly not! We love our language and our country, and we are doing our very utmost to raise her toiling masses (ie, nine-tenths of her population) to the level of a democratic and socialist consciousness ... We are full of national pride because the great Russian nation, too, has proved capable of providing mankind with great models of the struggle for freedom and socialism ... full of a sense of national pride, we great Russian workers want, come what may, a free and independent, a democratic, republican and proud great Russia ...”
Of course, this means opposing those who would use the national sentiments of the British people to oppress and belittle the achievements of others and, above all, to oppose our own ruling class, who would use the British people as cannon fodder in their wars and a milch cow to rescue their financial profligacy.
Despite all of your high-sounding phrases, nations do exist and will continue to exist even after the worldwide victory of socialism. The proletariat are internationalist, but not cosmopolitan. For those who constantly repeat the mantra that “the working men have no country”, they should at least read the rest of the paragraph, where Marx and Engels go on to argue that “Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself the nation, it is, so far, itself national, though not in the bourgeois sense of the word.”
I am proud to add my name to the No2EU campaign and welcome those like Andrew Northall who have the good sense to see the importance of what is being done.
For the record, and for complete clarity, the Socialist Party is not supporting the ‘No to EU, Yes to Democracy’ list in the European parliamentary elections. We are in fact standing our own list in the London region.
The ‘Socialist Party’ who are supporting, and standing for, the nationalist list headed by Bob Crow are, of course, the ex-Militant Trotskyists, not us.
Not that anyone will think we would have anything to do with such sentiments as this Bob Crow quotation on the No2EU website: “The anger amongst workers over the race to the bottom on jobs, pay and working conditions by companies exploiting the recession and the hiring and firing of overseas workers is now turning into a national fightback. That’s why I will be joining with our colleagues from the construction industry on the gates of the Olympic site in Stratford on Wednesday morning to show full support and solidarity ...” (www.no2eu.com/news.html).
Full support and solidarity with the anger amongst workers over the hiring and firing of overseas workers sounds suspiciously like ‘British jobs for British workers’. We are appalled that the name ‘Socialist Party’ should be associated with such views, which we utterly repudiate in favour of ‘Workers of the world, unite’.
We, in contrast, are standing for a world society, without frontiers, of common ownership, democratic control, production for use not profit, and distribution on the basis of ‘From each their ability, to each their needs’.
Of all the parties standing in the upcoming European elections, the only ones that seem to generate any real enthusiasm among the voting public are UK Independence Party, the Green Party and the British National Party.
I, for one, hope the Greens get a decent share of the vote as they are the only truly radical and progressive party that is promoting a non-sectarian vision of a sustainable future, and they seem to have the best chance of stopping the neo-fascists getting elected to the European parliament.
Tina Becker raises, almost as a footnote, the issue of democracy and asks comrade Nick Wrack what he means by it (‘Confusion and ambiguity’, May 14). She suggests, rhetorically, that this includes the ‘right to bear arms’, à la US bill of rights. It is an interesting question even if it’s not a vital, contemporaneously important one now.
In my research, I’ve never found any socialist group, ever, that supported the kind of gun bans that exist in some countries in Europe. Until the 1960s, that is, when two things occurred: a rise in crime in developing countries and, in the US, the rise of black militancy exemplified by the fight of Robert F Williams, the Deacons for Defense and Justice and the Black Panther Party to defend themselves.
That is when ‘liberal left’ calls for ‘gun control’ started to be heard in the capitalist press and became a cause célèbre among what is dubbed in the US the ‘left’. Since then, hard-left and socialist organisations have either avoided the issue or adapted to this liberal position, leaving the defence of the second amendment to the US constitution to the petty bourgeois right wing of the Republican Party. An interesting ‘flip-flop’ on positions.
Jack Conrad invites “comrades outside Britain, especially those ‘on the ground’ in the Middle East”, to join in the debate, and then adds: “[O]ur debate was initiated in order to bring additional clarity within the ranks of communists in Britain. Hence we are engaged in what might be called a training exercise. The educators are educating themselves” (‘The debate on Israel-Palestine assessed’, May 14).
It couldn’t be put more clearly, I’m afraid. And that’s why you’ve received this mail from Iran: to help comrade Conrad with his ‘high politics’ exercise!
CPGBers (probably together with Hands Off the People of Iran and Stop the War Coalition activists) seem to get an interest in the Middle East (including, among other things, the Israel-Palestine conflict) not as genuine internationalists, but merely as British communists in need of exercises in ‘high politics’. British comrades seem to be badly in need of solidarity, and, as they’re too divided among themselves at home, they find, regrettably, things going on here in the Middle East apparently so far-fetched and irrelevant to their own lives in Britain that a convergence on the ‘outsiders’ politics looks more in reach.
There’s nothing new in this: SWPers shout in London streets, “We’re all Hezbollah now!” I guess this would have lent support to their Respect project, as it is hoped to win British Muslims’ hearts! Also pragmatists here shed tears on the Israelis’ crimes in Gaza because it would give them a freer hand to bargain with Obama over the US-Iran differences. You see, everyone is in sympathy with the Palestinians - while they’ve never felt so lonely!
It would seem that the CPGB, like many other left organisations, has a confused line about the formation of a Marxist party. Whether the social-corporatist Labour Party is a “bourgeois workers’ party” is irrelevant (‘Yes to internationalism, yes to republican democracy’, May 14). It would seem that Dave Craig has a more correct, two-stage approach (‘No2 EU-UK, yes to a European republic’, May 7).
What is needed, based on the historical precedent established by the 19th century worker-class movement (as opposed to mere ‘worker movements’), is what Marx and Engels called a proletarian party. This party, while by no means espousing communist end goals as a necessity, is nevertheless distinguished from a mere bourgeois workers’ party primarily by its political and ideological independence from the bourgeois and petty bourgeois hegemony.
Even the Lassalleans and Eisenachers, for all their errors, were leaps and miles ahead of old Labour during its already compromised inception. Why? Because they strove to create a proletarian party in the form of the Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany.
The basic lessons of class struggle, class independence, organisational democracy (preferably the demarchic/lottery form that limits the election of individuals to mere recalls), class rule guided by those three principles and the Bordigist transnationalism of going ‘beyond nations’ (as opposed to mere internationalism) are all five of the principles of this transnational proletarian party, even if said party doesn’t have a communist end goal.
James Turley’s piece (‘Scams, yoghurts and loopholes’, May 14) made a number of good points, but in the current context is it really sufficient for socialists to insist on working class party MPs taking just an average skilled worker’s wage and for the workers’ party to have no qualms about ‘milking the system’? Okay, if the rules allow it, then the rules allow it, and it can be done, but such a stance cannot (and should not) satisfy ordinary workers who are forced to pay for all expenses of their representatives via taxation.
What socialists need to demand, in addition to a skilled worker’s wage for representatives and the right of recall, is just and effective rules on expenses. I do not claim to have a comprehensive answer here, but I would suggest two possible measures that would contribute to a fair system.
Firstly, accommodation (where necessary) supplementary to an MP’s main residence should be provided by the state (as is done, I believe, in Sweden) and, on the representative vacating said accommodation, it should revert to the state. That should stop MPs profiting from the sale of their second homes.
Secondly, enforce publication of constituency MPs’ expenses in the local press. That way it becomes clearer what the money was used for. If legitimate expenditure by a socialist MP is then attacked by the right wing, it can be defended by local socialists. (Perikles, the leader of the 5th century BCE Athenian democracy, famously included in his expenses account, audited at the end of his term of office, an item listed as: “To necessary expenditure: 10 talents”. Every Athenian citizen knew that this was a bribe paid to the Spartan military command to remove their invading troops from Attica, and nobody batted an eyelid).
Similar measures should, of course, apply to EU representatives.
Workers vs BNP
Postal workers across the country are once again refusing to deliver BNP European election leaflets. The national press is telling readers that this is because staff who deliver to areas where black or Asian people live might feel threatened. While there may be some truth in this, it misses the point that many working people, black and white, are offended by the BNP’s divisive crap, and that includes postal staff.
Royal Mail is contracted to deliver election material for all parties standing in the elections and in the past have had to hire temporary staff when workers have refused to handle BNP leaflets. Postal staff are hardly among the highest paid workers, so turning down an average of £20 per delivery is not a decision which is lightly taken, but, as one postman in the north west said, “There are more important things in life than money and I couldn’t live with myself if I delivered leaflets for a party which promotes racist ideas.”
Whatever the faults of the Communication Workers Union in not pushing for better working conditions for its members, its opposition to racism in general and the BNP in particular cannot be questioned. The CWU cites a Royal Mail ‘conscience clause’ in support of members who refuse to deliver the BNP leaflets.
This direct action taken by workers is something to be welcomed and contrasts to calls by sections of the left to to ban the BNP and other far-right parties. This is an extremely dangerous move - laws against the far right will eventually be used against the workers’ movement.
The ongoing expenses scandal is a godsend to far-right and nationalist parties - the BNP and Ukip both look set to gain from mass discontent on June 4. The question of how we counter this is key. Most of the left simply tail this or that anti-racism campaign and through endless sectarian stupidity have ensured projects like the Socialist Alliance have fallen apart, so we are left we no credible organisation that can take up the fight not only against the far right, but more importantly against the bourgeois establishment.
Communists ought to say something completely different from the ‘Vote anyone but BNP’ rubbish that has been peddled by the popular frontist left. We should have something to say to working class people beyond scaremongering and official anti-racism. While we must certainly aim for working class defence squads to defend our streets and demonstrations, we should remember that this is no longer the 70s, when the BNP routinely threatened violence against the left and ethnic minorities. Today the BNP mainly fights through the written and spoken word.
It is as clear as day that the strategy employed by the Socialist Workers Party through Unite Against Fascism and Love Music Hate Racism has failed. Anyone who wants to argue against this should just look at the continued rise of the BNP. The strategy of going to working class estates that have suffered at the hands of Labour, Lib Dem and Tory administrations and asking people to vote for these bourgeois parties to keep out the far right is useless. If all we have to say to workers is ‘Don’t vote BNP’ whilst offering no positive alternative, then the BNP will continue to make inroads.
Workers vs BNP
Workers vs BNP
In the printed version of my article, ‘Differences “no barrier” for us’, I inadvertently referred to Stop the War Coalition treasurer Steve Bell as a member of “Socialist Appeal” (Weekly Worker May 7).
This should have read ‘Socialist Action’. I apologise for the error.