Corporal Joe Glenton could be the modern-day Siegfried Sassoon. He is giving off a similar message 90 years later.
Do we never listen?
Just a few thoughts on the first two SWP Pre-Conference Bulletins.
1. It seems that the SWP is trying to launch the Right to Work Campaign a la 1970s-80s. However, it is early days - the RTW website is still very amateurish. But it seems that the campaign will become the main SWP front, with the prospect of joblessness meaning that unemployment will become like a dagger aimed at the heart of capitalism in the Anglo-Saxon countries.
2. The Stop the War Coalition seems to have been sidelined by the SWP as a means of silencing John Rees and Lindsey German.
3. Bulletin No1 (p35) - ‘Stopping the BNP: do we just contain them’ - explains that it is necessary to split the BNP members away from the cadres using the methods of the CPGB in the 1930s.
As John Bridge says on Podbean, it is necessary to go through the existing left, including the SWP and the Labour Left. And Lenin says: “Without revolutionary theory there cannot be a revolutionary party.” The turmoil within the SWP may mean that its members are more willing to debate and cooperate with others on the left.
Protests by Change.org, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), Outrage and others have persuaded PepsiCo to climb down and apologise, after it sponsored a concert in Uganda by ‘murder music’ singer Beenie Man, who encourages the killing of lesbians and gay men.
At his Ugandan concert on Saturday December 5, Beenie Man sang the song, ‘Mi nah wallah’, which includes a call to cut the throats of gay people. Uganda is notorious for homophobic violence and is currently considering introducing the death penalty for “aggravated” homosexuality and for “serial [gay] offenders”.
Following protests, Pepsi expressed regret over their sponsorship of Beenie Man. In a statement to Change.org, PepsiCo said: “We are appalled by the performer’s lyrics and find them repugnant. Our bottling partner in Uganda was not aware of the performer’s views and never would have sponsored the concert with this knowledge ... Moving forward, we will work closely with our bottling partners to be more vigilant about the events associated with our brands.”
We want to thank GLAAD and Change.org for their swift and effective lobbying of PepsiCo. Their efforts got a positive result.
David Allison of Outrage had written to PepsiCo: “We are shocked to learn that not only are you sponsoring the appearance of Beenie Man, the Jamaican dancehall music performer, but compounding the offence by sponsoring him in Uganda ... Uganda’s government is currently proposing legislation calling for the imprisonment and execution of gay people.
“Backing a concert that includes a notorious homophobe in a country launching draconian legislation against people simply because of their sexual orientation is a singularly inept, not to say immoral ... We ask that you withdraw your sponsorship and reaffirm your support for human rights.”
Beenie Man has a long history of inciting the murder of LGBT people. His hit tune, ‘Bad man, chi man’ (Bad man, queer man), instructs listeners to kill gay DJs and boasts that people would gladly go to jail for killing a queer. In another song, ‘Damn’, he sings: “I’m dreaming of a new Jamaica, come to execute all the queers.” ‘Han up deh’ includes the lyrics: “Hang lesbians with a long piece of rope.”
Beenie Man is also notorious for the track, ‘Batty man fi dead’ (Queers must be killed): “All faggots must be killed! If you fuck ass, then you get copper and lead [bullets].”
Regarding the recent article, ‘The polemical alternative’, ideally, the CPGB should have two papers and not one (December 3).
The current Weekly Worker has a mix of at least four things: “reporting on and polemicising against other sections of the left” (what ill-informed leftists would call ‘gossip’ and ‘rumour’); the economy, as suggested by Yassamine Mather; ‘speaking to the masses’, à la Socialist Worker, The Socialist and Morning Star; and political programme.
Right now, I see a bit of a deficiency in the area of political programme (albeit one acceptable for a newspaper of the current mix). To be sure, comrade Paul Cockshott has contributed his programmatic two cents on this core, and Arthur Bough has written about cooperatives in the past, but so many other aspects need to be covered.
The ideal is indeed two newspapers, à la Vorwärts and Die Neue Zeit of the pre-World War I Social Democratic Party of Germany. Clearly, one paper is more agitational, while the other educational. Put ‘speaking to the masses’ and both commentary and theory on the economy in the agitational newspaper, and both the ‘gossip’ and political programme in the educational newspaper. Some might argue that this is a broad, economistic set-up, but I would cite the SPD precedent.
In practice, the Weekly Worker is a theoretical magazine in newspaper format.
I think it would be a major error to abandon the theoretical struggle, while the so-called ‘left’ repeats slogans or follows the latest charismatic leader. However, I think you should consider turning the Weekly Worker into a monthly theoretical publication and turn its resources into a genuine working class newspaper.
Many ‘left’ newspapers treat workers as morons - ie, workers = good, capitalists = bad. I believe a working class newspaper that reflects the daily struggles should also be theoretical. Questions such as why labour unions are ineffective, why union bureaucrats sell out, why we need a different kind of unionism, and so on, are profoundly theoretical questions.
I think it is important not to preach to workers, with every article ending with the same politically correct slogans. We need to engage the working class in debate, interviewing workers and listening to them. We may have something to learn from the working class who are engaged always in small daily class struggles, though we also need to teach them what the schools and mass media refuse to teach.
Soviets and PR
Jacob Richter (Letters, December 3) pointed out that I was “confusing soviets with factory committees and other workplace committees” in my arguments in favour of the single transferable vote form of proportional representation (Letters, November 26).
However, according to Leon Trotsky in The history of the Russian Revolution (Vol I, chapter 22), the first congress of the soviets was made up of “820 delegates with a vote and 268 with a voice”, representing “305 local soviets, 53 district and regional organisations at the front, the rear institutions of the army, and a few peasant organisations”. He also pointed out that the rule on who could vote or speak - soviets representing at least 25,000 men (in those sexist times) or 10,000 men respectively were “none too strictly observed”. Trotsky was perhaps being deliberately vague in pointing out the composition of the congress, recognising that the structures weren’t as democratic as they should have been, with himself supporting “all power to the soviets” after Lenin had proposed this slogan.
It seems that the majority of voters at that first congress, and perhaps later congresses, did not represent local soviets, as Jacob argued. I think my arguments about representatives of workplaces not being particularly proportional applied at the level of individual soviets rather than the overall soviet congresses. The soviets arose as ad hoc structures during periods of struggle and the rules were presumably different in different localities.
I am not convinced that Jacob’s suggestion of “a revolutionary industrial union that from the outset caters to employed workers, unemployed workers, disabled workers, retired workers, and so on” establishing workers’ councils alleviates my concerns. What sort of democratic structures would it have? And why should middle class people be disenfranchised?
In my view, it is particularly important that the system to elect the government of a socialist country is roughly proportional. If this is not the case, there would be massive opposition from ordinary working and middle class people who are disenfranchised or sympathise with those who are - and if Marxists are to the fore in creating the new government, it is likely that the structures would be skewed in favour of workers.
I note Moshé Machover’s point (Letters, December 3) that STV is not entirely proportional, but, as I pointed out in my previous letter, neither is the regional list system used for the Scottish parliament and Welsh assembly. I have since been alerted by a member of the Democratic Labour Party of its proposal for a national ‘top-up’ system with (say) 250 constituencies and 250 top-up seats allocated to make it proportional, with a requirement for a party standing in a constituency having a full top-up list (rather than needing to raise a financial deposit, as at present). There would be no lower limit on the proportion of the vote required to get a candidate elected from the top-up list. This would be more proportional than STV, but would give massive power to party machines - and, although some parties could have very democratic structures, it’ll be a fact of life that others won’t.
Moshé made the very interesting suggestion of lottery-based elections in his essay ‘Collective decision-making and supervision in a communist society’, for which he provided a link in his letter. However, he admitted in the essay that it would only really be suitable under communism rather than in the early turbulent days of socialism after a revolution. In my opinion, the problem with this suggestion in such turbulent periods is that we need excellent representatives in parliament who are able to outthink our opponents and it would not be desirable for such potential MPs to be kept out by pure chance.
I now call myself “a socialist champion of free will” and I am more concerned that a free and open debate on how socialism would work takes place than that a particular electoral system is adopted.
Soviets and PR
Soviets and PR
Out of context
The doctrine of socialism in a separate country (and the unviable social formation that emerged out of it) came into existence not as a “tactical outcome of uneven development”, as Tony Clark states (Letters, December 3), but as a nationalist response to the contradiction between the market and planning in the former Soviet Union (FSU).
Internally, the Soviet bureaucratic elite faced the problem of how to extract a surplus from the peasantry and workers during the 1920s. It chose a non-market path based on the political and economic atomisation of workers. This led to forced collectivisation of the peasantry and the purges of the 1930s.
Externally, the elite used the Comintern as an agency for promoting the interests of the regime. A policy of attracting cross-class support for the FSU led workers’ movements to defeat in Britain, China, Spain and Germany. Alliances with nationalist parties and leaders took priority over independent working class action throughout the world.
During the cold war, the FSU played an important role in stabilising capitalism and creating the conditions for continued accumulation. The anti-working class nature of the regime made Marxism and any socialist alternative to capitalism appear abhorrent. The influence communist parties held over trade unions made sure that workers’ militancy would not take a revolutionary turn. Through its sponsorship of national liberation movements, the FSU helped create the new post-colonial ruling classes of Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
Given its wastefulness, inefficiency and inequality, it is surprising the FSU lasted as long as it did. Workers’ atomisation made communication, self-organisation and democracy impossible. As a consequence, the elite could not plan, develop new productive forces or extract a surplus sufficient for it to form a coherent ruling class.
The FSU was neither capitalist nor socialist and its contradictory nature led to subsequent collapse and disintegration. Nationalism continues to dominate the politics of the region and since 1988, there have been 10 conflicts in parts of the FSU. These have resulted in over 300,000 deaths and approximately three million people displaced through ethnic cleansing.
Those readers who follow Tony Clark’s contributions to this newspaper and the replies of his critics will have noticed that understanding the nature of the FSU is not one of his concerns. On the contrary, his interest is persuading them to adopt the FSU as a model for the post-revolutionary society of the future. This involves discrediting Trotsky and Trotskyists. As such, his method is conventionally Stalinist. He quotes Lenin out of context in order to establish his authority against opponents.
In his latest letter, he describes Trotskyists as “totalitarian”. The use of this epithet allies him with those rightwing journalists and academics who argue that a Trotskyist FSU would have been no different from a Stalinist one.
It is true that Trotsky’s characterisation of the FSU as a workers’ state was mistaken. It implied that nationalised property relations are necessarily progressive and that workers had a limited form of control over the regime. On the other hand - unlike Clark and some other writers for the Weekly Worker - Trotsky and his followers tried to apply Marx’s method to the FSU and, therefore, held no illusions that it was a socialist society.
Out of context
Out of context
Comrade Willie Hunter’s nationalist socialist beliefs owe their ideological heritage to the dark days of Stalin and his attempts at state building (Letters, November 26). Willie appears to be arguing for a policy of ‘fortress Britain’: draw up the drawbridge and all our problems will be solved; Britain can exist in glorious isolation.
As this paper tirelessly emphasises, capital is organised on a global basis. Working class politics too must at least be organised on a pan-European level. The best way for the British working class to defend itself and move forward is to recognise its common cause with all sections of the working class, no matter what their racial or ethnic background, for ultimately unity is strength.
To talk of border and immigration controls, defending the British state and doing some wretched backroom deal with the ruling class could only serve to weaken and isolate the British working class and lead the communist movement back down the national socialist cul-de-sac, where it has spent the last 80-odd years.
Finally with regard to comrade Rikki Reid’s letter (November 26). Whilst comrade Reid has every right to criticise Sarah McDonald’s article (‘Nats and left take a beating’, November 19), the language used shows a marked lack of respect for the dignity of all concerned.
I listened with interest to the podcast of Mike Macnair’s talk on imperialism at Hands Off the People of Iran’s annual general meeting (cpgb.podbean.com).
It appears that he is developing his global hegemon theory to the point where imperialism seems to be moving in a cycle, implying that in the current period we are not essentially seeing a different form of imperialism from, say, the time when Britain was the global hegemon in the 19th century. Yet he is careful to distance himself from the idea that the coming period will necessarily see direct military conflict between imperialist powers, or a physical carve-up and colonisation of weaker parts of the globe by major imperialist rivals. Surely, though, if the current period is not characterised by those two things, what we are still calling ‘imperialism’ must be a very different form of imperialism from anything previously understood as such.
Macnair asserts that, since Vietnam, the United States has been unable to intervene to impose global order anywhere, and has only spread destruction through petty revenge attacks. But I’m not sure this argument entirely holds water. Some might question his inclusion of Yugoslavia on the list of regions where the US has spread only ‘destruction’. Is the region really less stable than it was before 1999? Did the bombing of Serbia cause only ‘destruction’ or did it in fact effectively stop a far worse form of ‘destruction’ - that is, Milosevic’s attempts at mass slaughter? The idea of imposing order through military intervention did not start with Iraq, as the US more or less achieved this very goal in the former Yugoslavia.
I think Macnair is moving towards the belief that China could be the long-term threat to the US’s global hegemony. This is not necessarily wrong, but it is important to emphasise just how far away this is, not least because the wing of the US bourgeoisie that was so intent on talking up the Chinese ‘threat’ - the paranoid neo-cons - are increasingly sidelined, politically and intellectually, in the corridors of power. More interesting would be a discussion of how the British left is likely to react to the growing imperial ambitions of ‘communist’ China, and the line genuine proletarian internationalists should take.
I was disappointed to read the Weekly Worker’s analysis of the economic crisis, and where we are within it (‘The polemical alternative’, December 3).
Of course, the Weekly Worker is not alone in the kind of catastrophism that was represented in the article. On the contrary, that kind of view is typical on the left. Some groups even talked about the ‘recession’ at the beginning of 2008, whilst the world economy was still growing quite strongly, and a full six months before the recession began, following the outbreak of the financial crisis, in the autumn!
It is rather sad then that you criticise Permanent Revolution for asking the question, ‘Whatever happened to the great depression?’, because, of all the left groups, they have been about the only one that has had anything approaching a correct analysis. As I wrote some months ago, even they wobbled in the depths of the crisis, in the face of a wall of doom-mongering. In fact, I think that your analysis, like most of that of the left, is based not on Marxism, but on Lassalleanism, just as much of the left’s politics are based on Lassallean statist notions rather than on the anti-state positions of Marx.
Running through almost all of the left’s economic analysis is the idea repeated in your article that capitalism is a system in decay: “Comrade Bridge pointed out that it was not just a question of capitalism’s cyclical crises that ought to concern us, but the fact that it is a system in long-term decline.” It is an idea that basically flows directly from Lassalle’s ‘iron law of wages’- the idea that if there is growth, if there is improvement in workers’ conditions, it is necessarily suspect and has to be explained as not a real improvement, but some kind of mirage, the result of super-exploitation somewhere, and so on.
In fact, this is another hangover from Stalinism, which, as Mandel demonstrated, continually spoke in these terms. Soviet economists went through the most extreme panegyrics in trying to demonstrate that living standards in the west were really falling, when to even the most casual observer it was obvious that exactly the opposite was the truth! Yet it is common to read in the ‘Where we stand’ columns of even supposedly ‘anti-Stalinist’ organisations, comments such as ‘Capitalism creates poverty’, which, whilst relatively true, in absolute terms is fundamentally and palpably false. Not for nothing did Marx talk about the revolutionising role of capitalism, its rescuing millions from the idiocy of rural life, nor of its “civilising mission”, in raising workers’ standards of living, their access to leisure, education and culture, which were fundamental and necessary for workers to adequately develop the class-consciousness that would make them the new ruling class.
Rosdolsky trawled through every reference in Marx to wages, and in the several thousand there was just one that he found that could be interpreted as suggesting that capitalism drives down wages and living standards in absolute terms - ie, causes immiseration. But it is massively outweighed by all of his other comments to the contrary and, in particular, in his attacks on Lassalle and the notion of the iron law of wages. In the Critique of the Gotha programme, he reiterates that in a comment, which should serve as an indictment of all those who have followed in Lassalle’s footsteps. He wrote: “It is as if, among slaves who have at last got behind the secret of slavery and broken out in rebellion, a slave still in thrall to obsolete notions were to inscribe on the programme of the rebellion: ‘Slavery must be abolished because the feeding of slaves in the system of slavery cannot exceed a certain low maximum’” (www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1875/gotha/ch02.htm).
The comments about China and India I found laughable, to be honest, but they are in the same vein. They are of the school which defines imperialism in terms of some kind of immutable relationship of dependency, which is highly unMarxist and undialectical.
Of course, Lenin and other Marxists at the beginning of the last century did not help matters by themselves declaring that the “imperialist” stage of capitalism was one of decay. But Trotsky advised his supporters to “learn to think”. Rather than simply accepting Lenin’s dictum, Trotsky’s advice should be heeded.
On what possible rational basis can any serious economist describe capitalism as being in “long-term decline”? There is absolutely no basis at all. Far from it: since at least the end of World War II, capitalism has been in a phase of development that far exceeds its earlier stages. Not only has it created a world market in the true sense of the word, but it has opened up within that market the potential for a much freer movement of productive capital than existed before, when ‘imperialism’ was really a function of marauding merchant capital. It has harnessed science to production in ways that make the industrial revolution appear pitiful, and consequently it has expanded production and raised living standards way above anything that seemed possible in the 19th century. And, on the back of that, it has spread its preferred political regime for the accumulation of capital - bourgeois democracy - more widely than at any other time in history.
For Marxists to try to portray modern capitalism as in decay or long-term decline can only further damage the image of Marxism in the ideas of the working class.
The fact that you seized upon the events in Dubai to try to bolster your argument, and to attack Permanent Revolution, is symptomatic. But surely it is not Permanent Revolution who have been embarrassed by Dubai, but your own analysis, which blew the event up only to see it disappear as a 48-hour wonder, because in reality it was negligible in its economic importance. What is missing from your analysis is any consideration of the question of why capital used Keynesian methods in the US in the 1930s, but essentially nowhere else; why it used such methods during the post-war boom and why it used them now; and why, in contrast, it did not use such methods in the 1930s in Europe, nor in the second slump of the 1980s. The answer is that it used such methods in conditions of long-wave upswing, when sufficient surplus value existed to finance them, and when renewed growth would repay the expenditure, and did not during the periods of long-wave downswing in the 1930s and 1980s when such conditions did not exist. We are in a period of long-wave rise, not decline.
What is worse is that, in following this kind of economic catastrophism, the left fails to deal with the actual economic situation facing workers in western economies. The reality is that in a global market for commodities, including labour-power, and in which capital can move to where it can most effectively exploit available labour, the problem facing workers in the west is that the kind of frictions that enabled their relatively high wages of the past are increasingly removed. No longer can they rely simply upon the fact that their labour-power is backed up by masses of capital, so that the higher productivity of labour affords higher wages. Workers in China and India area now increasingly equipped with even more effective machinery than workers in the west, and so on. No longer can workers in the west rely on the fact that it is difficult for capital to relocate entire factories. The experience at MG Rover demonstrated that and, as production increasingly moves to higher-tech industries, such relocation becomes even easier. Nor can they rely on the risks for capital in relocating, as the spread of bourgeois democracy and the capitalist state enforcing property laws for all capital operating within its borders creates the necessary conditions for its expansion and accumulation.
The second slump of the 1970s and 80s saw a process of deindustrialisation set in, which was limited, because, given the conjuncture, a more thorough restructuring of capital would have been devastating for western economies. But that process is symptomatic of this reality of the new world capitalist economy. A reality in which workers in the west will face increasing competition from workers in the east, and which will necessarily drive down wages and conditions in the west relative to those in the east. That is a simple matter of economics and no amount of state ownership, reformism, syndicalism or calls for more militancy can change it. To the extent that new areas of production, such as high-tech, or areas such as media and finance, which rely upon highly skilled, complex labour, in which the west retains some comparative advantage, are developed, some workers with the necessary skills can maintain their conditions, but for the rest the next 15-20 years will be very uncomfortable. Capital is already responding by bringing in cheap, imported labour to do the low-paid, low-status work remaining and which it finds the domestic workforce is currently not prepared to undertake.
The reality we face is one in which capitalism as a global system is in a period of rapid advance, but one which is full of contradictions. In the west we are likely to see a much more bifurcated workforce than in the past, and ordinary workers will see their relative position decline markedly.
Only a political solution can provide workers with a way forward. That political solution cannot flow from Lassalleanism.