Willie Hunter (Letters, November 26) expresses the confusion common on the left around open borders.
The Marxist position has remained the same since its inception in the 19th century. We are for open borders because that offers the working class the best conditions for defending itself against capitalist exploitation. Historically in Britain freedom to immigrate has succeeded pretty well - incorporating Irish, Jews and West Indians, for example. So the proof is in the pudding.
Trade unions should concentrate on defending working conditions irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity; otherwise we end up with a deeply divided working class that can easily be manipulated by the capitalist class. A good example of this would be the manipulation of race in the United States.
Communism is based on the international unity of the working class, not on nationalist illusions. A two-tier working class will aid only the capitalist class. Anyway, the idea that Britain can opt out of the international division of labour is risible. Capitalists do not have to employ cheap labour in this country. They can often move manufacturing to where the cheap labour is - eg, China. The problem of cheap labour is that it cannot provide a market for the goods it creates, which requires a western mass market based on the working class to soak up the production. Destroying our living standards creates a serious problem for capitalism, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t do it.
Capitalism is presently trying to cope with a classical crisis driven by lack of effective demand. One response to this is to stop non-profitable social expenditure - that is, money spent on the working class - even though it will intensify their own crisis. This, not immigration, is the real problem facing our class.
Comrade Hunter is wrong to think that there are millions of people who want to come here. It would be truer to say that there are millions of people who would like to earn their living in their own country surrounded by family and friends. Full employment has to be the active policy of our class and it can only be delivered on an international basis.
After World War II, full employment was pursued by capitalism out of fear of revolution. In those days the Soviet Union seemed to pose an international alternative to capitalism. We now require a Communist Party of Europe as a minimum. Once again international, not national, perspectives are essential. No wonder it is rightwing groups who want to retreat into nationalism and blame immigrants for everything. From their point of view, it is much better than working class organised action.
Capitalist laws already exist to stop immigrants coming in. But, firstly, they do not succeed and, secondly, they do not prevent employers taking advantage of cheap labour. What they do is criminalise certain workers, so that they cannot turn to the working class movement to protect them from ultra-exploitation, thus undermining working conditions.
If Liz Hoskings, cares to read the first part of my autobiography, Geordies wa mental, she might find that not everyone has had such an apparently sheltered life that she had (Letters, November 26).
I started having sexual intercourse at the age of 12, as did a number of my schoolmates. The two girls who did me the pleasure were indeed two years older and therefore more experienced than the virginal little me. Not by the wildest stretch of anyone’s imagination could it be called abuse, and I was highly delighted. I have to say I considered this extremely healthy - whether it was ‘informed’ or not, I’m really not sure.
What does Liz think I needed informing of? The two girls took for granted that, being a normal, developing teenager, I was up for it. I was and, since I hadn’t a clue where to start had it been down to me, I was more than pleased that they seduced me - if you can call having your pants pulled down and a semi-naked girl bounce up and down on your penis ‘seduction’.
Now, of course, the law would jail the girls for rape. And this is the trouble: you can talk up a case of ‘abuse’ by altering the meaning of facts and terminology, making this whole thing complex and difficult when really it’s a perfectly natural process. The law today would say I had been a ‘victim’. Actually, I wasn’t, and no-one had done anything remotely wrong.
Two years later, four of my friends and I had sex with a real sexy women in her early thirties. Did she ‘abuse’ us? Are you crazy? We had planned the encounter for weeks and, if anything, we seduced her. Doubtless, she knew all sorts of clever stuff that we didn’t, but what had that to do with anything? Half of the school would have chopped off their big toe to have come with us, and there is no doubt that we consented like there was no tomorrow.
Were we ‘ill-informed’? Again I have to ask, ill-informed of what? What does Liz think we needed to know before getting laid? Basic facts, she suggests, because young people can be ignorant. But we knew well enough what the sex thing was about; finding enough women and girls to engage with was the problem. It was practical stuff, not theory, that we were searching for.
All of that was 40 years ago. Does Liz mean to suggest that young teenagers are less aware now than we were 40 years ago? I would have thought that all the evidence suggests that young people are sexually active earlier and more generally than a generation or longer ago; that they are more aware.
What worries me about Liz’s piece is that she clearly thinks she knows better than the youngsters and that they cannot be allowed to decide for themselves what they’re going to do, when and with whom. She will make that judgement for them - as will the law by sealing off more and more areas of freedom, from climbing trees and playing in parks to sexual encounters.
The real problem is that we live in an age where the state demands to control every aspect of our lives from cradle to grave; to decide for us what risks to take, what judgements to make, what mores we live by, what is acceptable. They get away with this by inventing a whole army, a whole society, of ‘victims’ - old, young, race, religion, whatever - none of whom can be allowed to live their own lives and make their own decisions. All are preyed upon by predators and evil-doers who would seduce us, groom us, persuade us, so that even when we willingly consent we don’t really.
Colin McGhie accuses me of “gross vulgarisation” for quoting Lenin’s ‘On cooperation’ out of context in order to give credence to the theory of socialism in one country (Letters, November 26).
If it were simply a matter of giving credence to a theory, I could provide further quotations from Lenin. Once again I need to remind the reader that, while all communists uphold the struggle for international socialism as a strategic aim, they regard socialism in one or several countries as a tactical outcome of uneven political development resulting from objective conditions. While Trotsky supported the strategic struggle for international socialism, his ultra-left opposition to the tactical struggle for socialism in one country generated unnecessary divisions on the revolutionary left, not to mention the barefaced concealment from his followers as to the origin of this latter tactic.
McGhie also claims that Stalin destroyed party democracy and that we should distinguish Stalinism from the advanced western countries, where Marxism had its roots. However, it’s very rich for the left, particularly the British left, to condemn Stalin for being anti-democratic. The British left, for instance, is almost completely totalitarian, particularly the Trotskyists. Totalitarianism in a party or group is the tendency which seeks to expel any views which are contrary to the leadership. This mentality and practice results in the frequent proliferation of new groups, as more individuals are expelled. Hence leftwing totalitarianism in Britain dialectically expresses itself as its opposite: fragmentation of the left.
These are the people who like to criticise Stalin for anti-democratic behaviour without first removing the mote from their own eyes. They ignore their own anti-democratic behaviour, a product of their totalitarian mindset, to such an extent, that they fail to recognise that, as long as this mindset exists, all attempts at unity and the formation of a single party will be constantly sabotaged and continue to elude us.
In the print version of last week’s Weekly Worker I stated that Tony Dowling had “been expelled” from the Socialist Workers Party for “allegedly making a sexist joke” (‘Defend Rees-German and the Left Platform’, November 26).
This is incorrect. Although comrade Dowling is a member of the Left Platform and has been publicly criticised by the SWP leadership, he has neither been accused of “making a sexist joke” nor, at the time of writing, is subject to any disciplinary action.
I would like to apologise for any embarrassment caused.
In his book Revolutionary strategy: Marxism and the challenge of left unity, Mike Macnair argues for an independent working class organisation that follows a Kautskyan ‘strategy of patience’, trying to go back to the principles that made early social democracy successful and find an updated form.
He sums up the strategic line as follows: “Until we have won a majority (identifiable by our votes in election results), the workers’ party will remain in opposition and not in government. While in opposition we will, of course, make every effort to win partial gains through strikes, single-issue campaigns, etc, including partial agreements with other parties not amounting to government coalitions, and not involving the workers’ party expressing confidence in these parties.”
While I’m sympathetic to his general argument, I think there are some significant differences under present conditions that require serious thinking about the revival of an analogous strategy.
Firstly, the existence of large reformist parties with working class roots (eg, present-day European social democracy) that will continue to win a significant section of workers. This is quite unlike the rapidly growing SPD at the beginning of the 20th century. Moreover, once a party has grown to significance, there will be pressures from the electorate and members to enter into coalitions for important short-term reforms and keeping the reformist party in check. Anything else is considered ‘irresponsible’. Look at the present-day Norwegian Socialist Left Party, for example.
Secondly, the lack of a growing core of industrial workers, which had strong workplace bargaining power. The political power of the Scandinavian social democratic parties rested on mass trade unions. This growing core gave the movement confidence that the future belonged to it. Today the industrial working class is decimated and in decline in the advanced capitalist economies. One major source of strength for early social democracy no longer exists. Large-scale industrial workplaces should not be idealised, but they concentrate workers and put them on an equal basis, upon which a class-consciousness can be formed. The unique level of industrial employment in Europe certainly had an effect on the formation of the European working classes and hence on the specificity of the trajectory of western European capitalism during the 20th century.
Thirdly, the lack of affiliated, independent, working class organisations. What cemented the class basis of the Scandinavian labour movement was the fact that it could provide the working class with things that neither the state nor market could, including educational and recreational activities. This has partly been undermined by the very success of social democratic reforms.
Even if a mass movement could take off, the Kautskyan strategy could not be copied straightaway because under present conditions it would be unlikely to win support beyond the size of, say, Die Linke or at best the organisationally powerful Dutch Socialist Party, in the short to medium term primarily due to the existence of a large reformist party. But, if it would be intransigent about delegitimising the existing institutions and pushing the entire political spectrum leftwards, it would be worthwhile. Indeed, this is what some populist far-right parties have done quite successfully in the opposite direction.
I do, however, see two possible areas where space for a revived mass movement could open up.
Firstly, supranational trade union struggle that pushes towards political unification of the working class on a supranational level. Such a unification project seems to be underway in South America, but would be very relevant to counter the current form of European unification.
Secondly, gaining relevance within the ‘precariat’- ie, the growing mass of workers with precarious forms of employment, such as part-time, semi-legal and so on. Of course, a problem here is that this section of the service proletariat has a relatively weak bargaining position, but an independent working class organisation could provide forms of security.
What is needed is a scientific theory of working class formation and organisation. Classical Marxism provided one for industrialising capitalism, but we need one for service-dominated capitalist economies. An important work that enables the beginning of such a theory is Beverly Silver’s Forces of labour: workers’ movements and globalisation since 1870.
In sum, the revival of a socialist mass movement is both a theoretical-scientific matter and a practical-organisational one.
Steve Wallis begins his letter (November 26) by alleging that I “exposed some quirks of the single transferable vote form of proportional representation”.
This is a misunderstanding, showing that he has failed to grasp my main point. What I proved mathematically in my letter (November 12) is that STV is not merely quirky, but is not really a form of proportional representation. A system cannot possibly be proportional if under it an increase of support for a given party, other things being equal, may result in that party winning fewer seats.
Having started by failing to understand what I argued, he ends his letter by ascribing to me certain views by dint of mere suspicion: “So let’s turn to the alternative that I suspect Moshé advocates, as a Marxist.”
I can assure him that this suspicion is quite groundless: I do not advocate the views he ascribes to me. There is no need for guesswork: comrade Wallis can find out what I really think by reading my essay ‘Collective decision-making and supervision in a communist society’, posted on ZNet. A summary is available at www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/23118, from which there is a link to the full essay. If he will take the trouble to read and understand what I say there, he may well be surprised and perhaps even change his mind about voting systems.
I have just read Steve Wallis’s letter on the single transferable vote versus soviets, and I want to respond to his concerns about the soviet form.
Steve is confusing soviets with factory committees and other workplace committees. The latter definitely “discriminate against unemployed people, disabled/temporarily ill people, students, pensioners and farmers/peasants” if they take power, so I am definitely against the notion of “all power to the factory committees!” - a slogan that Lenin mistakenly flirted with.
Soviets themselves have a murkier history. In a lot of cases they, like workplace committees, arise out of ‘spontaneous’ workplace struggles, and in the process disenfranchise other segments of the proletariat. However, the soviets of 1917 and codified in the Soviet Union’s constitution were somewhat different, having been created by blocs of political parties themselves and constituting the various elements of the working class. These elements voted not from their workplaces, but from local assembly meetings, akin to the local assemblies that elect communal councils in Venezuela. ‘All power to the communal councils’ would not be such a bad idea for that country.
To alleviate Steve’s concern, I suggest that he entertain the possibility of workers’ councils being created by a revolutionary industry union that from the outset caters to employed workers, unemployed workers, disabled workers, retired workers, and so on. How does this concept cater to the broad class? Not just in terms of who can join, but also by posing political questions - something that the Industrial Workers of the World failed to do.
The website of the revolutionary industry union to which I refer can be found at www.wiiu.org.
Rikki Reid writes: “Even though the by-election result was piss-poor for the SSP, it was a true vote of people supporting a socialist candidate rather than one carried by a media personality” (Letters, November 26).
And, of course, when the Scottish Socialist Party added “Convenor: Tommy Sheridan” to its party name on ballot papers in previous elections that was not indulging in personality politics, was it?
As for the claim that the SSP vote was a “true vote” for a socialist candidate, one look at the election manifesto shows a menu of reforms and palliatives rather than the demand for socialism. If socialists are going to contest elections, it should be done on the basis of getting elected on a straight, socialist maximum programme of common ownership and production for use, with a view to using parliament or the local council chamber as a platform from which to spread socialist ideas (while still in a minority) and to help usher in socialism (when a majority is achieved and acting on instructions from a mass, democratically organised and socialist-minded movement outside). This is quite different from getting elected with non-socialist votes on a programme of attractive-sounding reforms to capitalism - a ploy by a vanguard to attract a following.
When no true socialist candidate is standing, as was the case in Glasgow North East, the Socialist Party of Great Britain recommends a write-in vote for socialism - a spoiled ballot paper with ‘world socialism’ written across it.
As Eugene V Debs said, “I’d rather vote for something I want and not get it than vote for something I don’t want and get it.” Or John Quincy Adams: “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”
I really do not understand why the British left appears to regard the continued existence of the monarchy and the demand for a republican constitution as marginal to ‘real, day-to-day, bread-and-butter issues’.
I agree with the Weekly Worker that a working class which does not take seriously the issue of the constitution in this country is not serious about taking and exercising power - still less about becoming the new (majority) ruling class.
The traditional aim of the socialist left in this country was to achieve “an irreversible shift in wealth and power in favour of working people and their families”. But the very existence of the monarchy legitimises and underpins vast inequalities of income and wealth in this nation and vests sovereign and supreme power in the hands of one aristocratic family on the basis of inheritance. It therefore places severe and absolute limits of the ability of any government to implement any serious programme of social, economic and democratic reform.
What is so wrong with the simple demand to be able to choose and elect whomever we, the people, wish to act as our head of state for a limited period of time, with clearly prescribed and limited powers, and for these to emanate from the people, not be exercised over them?
At the same time, we should replace the House of Lords with an indirectly elected and circumscribed body much as the Senate in the Republic of Ireland, able to scrutinise and revise legislation, ensure the representation of special interests and expertise in society in the governance of the country, such as the trade unions, education and health sectors and professionals, research organisations, charitable bodies and special working class political groups.
Democracy should also prevail in the main, lower house of parliament and we should ensure that any elected member has the support of the majority in any constituency and that any government administration is supported by the majority of votes in the country as well as in the house.
Such a simple but radical triple-pronged approach to democratic and constitutional reform - which is, after all, about nothing more or less than transferring real sovereign power to the majority of the peoples of Britain - could seize the imagination of large numbers in forthcoming general elections and establish a modern, dynamic, progressive and transforming alliance between the traditional working class movement and middle class sections and strata of the population. It should therefore be an integral part of any electoral programmes of the left and progressive movement.
A few weeks ago I wrote here that the CPGB needed to link its demands in relation to the establishment of a militia to the general question of defence and military policy (Letters, October 8).
Jim Moody’s article is a step in that direction (‘Tip of an iceberg’, November 26). It provides useful background historical information and thoughtful ideas on the war in Afghanistan and how the left should relate to it and to those sent to fight. I was particularly pleased that he took up the issue of Islamists going to heckle returning troops. However, there were some aspects that I would disagree with.
I accept that the Stop the War Coalition has not itself been responsible for the kinds of actions referred to above. Nor has it, I believe, sufficiently denounced those who have engaged in such action, and that is undoubtedly due to the popular frontist nature of the organisation, and its desire not to alienate potential recruits within the Muslim community. Simply promoting Military Families Against the War is not enough in that regard, because it reflects nothing more than the kind of catch-all politics of popular fronts that attempt not to alienate possible support by avoiding sharp political questions. I am not at all convinced that the idea is well entrenched in the anti-war movement that a victory for ‘anti-imperialist forces’ is not the same as being prepared to see British troops brought home in boxes. Indeed, I have before now been involved in debates with Socialist Workers Party supporters who have made precisely the opposite argument.
I also disagree with the point made that “Rather than calling for helicopters and better kit and equipment, we communists want them out of harm’s way”, because this suggests that we are faced with an ‘either-or’ situation. We want workers out of the “harm’s way” of capitalism in general, but, until such time as we are strong enough to do away with capitalism, we have a duty to defend as best we can the workers having to put up with it. We don’t say we want health and safety to be as bad as possible, and wages and conditions to be as low as possible, in order the better to persuade workers to have done with it! On the contrary, the fight for those kinds of improvements are fundamental to building the power and organisation of the workers to bring that about, and in the same way fighting for proper training, adequate equipment and so on, along with the demands for democracy which Jim rightly raises, are fundamental to bringing about the kind of changes in the armed forces - and ultimately their replacement with a workers’ militia - that the article talks about.
When Trotsky and his US supporters like Cannon and Farrell Dobbs discussed this question prior to World War II, they were adamant that the demand for adequate training and equipment had to be raised as fundamental to communist propaganda, making the point that, although they opposed the war, they recognised its inevitability and the need to protect the lives of workers sent to fight as best they could. We should do the same now. We should also take on board Engels’s argument in favour of universal military conscription, and the opposition raised by Engels, Lenin and Trotsky to the idea of desertion or draft-dodging, which, as Trotsky sets out, is nothing more than desertion also from the class struggle: a collapse into pacifism.
A subheading within Jim Moody’s article reads: ‘Support our boys’. A fair assessment would conclude you had no need to put speech marks around this.
Jim says: “Many join the armed forces to learn a trade or just escape the mind-numbing tedium of unemployment. They are in effect economic conscripts.” Surely this economic- deterministic idea can be called an example of ‘economism’? It would be helpful for someone to explain if not, because it may develop our understanding of why the vast majority of people influenced by Marx fall foul of what the tiny minority of Marxists in the CPGB call ‘economism’. We would be better served to listen very carefully to the words and motivations of the actual soldiers themselves rather than study the science (sic) of Marxism. As the article concludes, “thought can’t be extinguished”.
However, Jim’s views may mirror working class people in Arab countries, who refer to imperialist soldiers as mercenaries. He boldly states that warmongers had a “heaven-sent gift” when those Islamist bigots held up placards, as though we can’t deny that their protests have undoubtedly led to a growth of support for the war. I don’t think this is true, but the ensuing tension may help understand Jim’s sensitivity to nationalism. If the CPGB wishes to challenge Islamic bigots with regard to championing an anti-imperialist struggle, you need to make a case why you think boredom would be a more important issue than dead babies. Surely it is less debatable to call soldiers ‘armed bodies of men’ and hence wouldn’t Marxists call these ‘the state’?
Your recognition of soldiers’ “discontent, frustration, anger and protests” (for more helicopters!) and being “dreadfully maimed” is in marked contrast to the throwaway afterthought: “... and has resulted in around 10,000 civilian deaths”. While I’m not sure that reasoned rationality would help tackle the prejudice of Nick Griffin, I hope that I can loosen the prejudice of this article. Please write another in-depth article about John Maclean’s problematical battle with the patriots with regard to (actual) conscripts rather than imagining that any anti-army protest from Muslims is only comparable with a fictitious moment in a Rambo film.