Great ignorance

Whatever ‘sophisticated’ theory of the oil industry Cyrus Bina has developed will make no difference if the world is at, or near to, the world oil production peak, as predicted by geophysicist and petroleum geologist Marion King Hubbert (‘Is it the oil, stupid?’, November 19).

Those who support Bina doubt whether politics in the Middle East can be explained solely or mainly through attempts to gain control over oilfields and pipelines. This approach, they argue, has certainly been the approach of much of the left in Britain and elsewhere.

According to Bina, there is a myth on the left about ‘war for oil’ which is hard to resist and the globalisation of the oil industry since the 1970s has rendered the sui generis categories of access and dependency meaningless. Bina also argues that the new world disorder results from the loss of America’s hegemony and has nothing to do with the ad hoc oil scenario. Can political ignorance regarding petroleum-based capitalism be any greater than this?

In fact, the loss of America’s world hegemony is inextricably bound up with the oil scenario, and is related to the fact the US oil production peaked in 1970, as was predicted by Hubbert in 1956, leading to a situation where America now imports more than 50% of its oil needs, and the Middle East Islamic countries now controls about 60% of the world’s reserves. Bush’s war on terror was the pretext to prepare for impending oil shortages. Bush is in the know. Bina does not.

What Bina and his acolytes do not see is that if global oil production has now peaked, or is near to peaking, the globalisation of the oil market does not remove the problem of access or dependency. If peak oil theory is now coming true in regard to world oil production, as it did in regard to US oil production in 1970, what the nations of the world now face is either a fight over the remaining oil (the Bush approach) or the implementation of some form of international rationing system. Either way, the era of cheap oil has come to an end, together with the consumer capitalist societies which depended on it, and its free-market, neoliberal economic theory.

If the left is to be criticised, it should not be for focussing on the importance of oil as a primary factor driving world politics, but rather for lack of awareness of the issue of peak oil theory and the coming oil shortages which it presages, together with the consequences for machine-based industrial societies, whether capitalist or socialist, and the implication for the political strategy of the left.

Great ignorance
Great ignorance

Iron laws

Although much of this letter is a reiteration of what I’ve said in programmatic material elsewhere, Arthur Bough is being overly dismissive of so-called ‘Lassalleanism’ (Letters, December 10).

This letter will address three things briefly: Lassalle’s agitational skills regarding the situation of workers; the national question; and cooperatives.

I’ve written about how boring and academic ‘relative immiseration’ sounds, and I reflected upon Lassalle’s agitational skills. One should admit, first off, that between Lassalle and Marx, Lassalle was by far the superior agitator. I’ve summed up relative immiseration in modern conditions, and have termed it the ‘iron law of disproportionate immiseration’:

  1. In the ‘trickle-down’ best of times, workers’ incomes do not rise as rapidly as the incomes of those above them, and while immiserated further by interest on the growing but hidden consumer debt slavery, they can be subject to the disproportionately immiserating effects of inflation.
  2. When rates of industrial profit fall during recessions and otherwise, workers’ incomes are fully subject to the disproportionately immiserating pressure coming from elsewhere in the ‘freely’ and ‘socially’ exploited labour market - “namely from the reserve armies of the unemployed” - and, specifically, unprotected workers’ incomes are fully subject to the disproportionately immiserating effects of inflation.
  3. When rates of financial profit fall during recessions and otherwise, much of workers’ incomes are diverted to consumer and mortgage debt payments, while still fully subject to the disproportionately immiserating pressures and effects noted above.
  4. During depressions, the absolute immiseration of workers’ incomes towards subsistence levels is in full effect.

On the national question, I of course oppose nationalism, but nationalist sentiments amongst workers could be used in the short term as a two-edged sword. As part of the proletariat “rising to be the leading class of the nation, constituting itself the nation” (Communist manifesto, chapter 2), populist charges can be levelled against national bourgeoisies everywhere regarding their common financial cosmopolitanism - ‘industrial’ (via outsourcing) or otherwise (look no further than to capital flight phenomena and discussions on half-hearted ‘Tobin tax’ measures). Outsourcings and capital flights should be described as ‘ever-unpatriotic’ whenever communists appeal to nationalistic workers, while the capital flight phenomenon can even be described as a form of ‘economic terrorism’ (terrorising the population at large to the whims of the capital flight lobbyists).

As for cooperatives, of all people, Bough should know the political weakness of cooperatives as a movement foundation. I wrote of the need to partially rehabilitate the ‘producer cooperatives with state aid’ slogan. No, it isn’t the stuff of maximum programmes, but there are justifications:

  1. The Eisenach programme;
  2. The Paris Commune (by compensating capitalists who abandoned factories taken over by workers, the state is providing ‘aid’ in what should be seen as a de facto worker purchase of the factories); and
  3. Venezuela (well, not so much this case of abuse, because lots of ‘co-ops’ are mere means for individuals to get state credit for more personal reasons).

The second justification is the primary basis for what I wrote programmatically: the genuine end of ‘free markets’, including in unemployment resulting from workplace closures, mass sackings and mass lay-offs, by encouragement of, and unconditional economic assistance (both technical and financial) for, pre-cooperative worker buyouts of existing enterprises and enterprise operations.

Iron laws
Iron laws

Past it

There is strategic sense in the ‘two papers’ approach suggested by comrade Jacob Richter (Letters, December 10).

We already have two publications - a website and a paper - and perhaps it is a limit of our conception that the online and the paper editions carry the same content, because there is a case for the website to be much more than just the electronic Weekly Worker.

The paper edition could be freed up to contain more agitational material in weeks where we might plan to do street work, or when we anticipate an event that won’t only be attended by the organised left, and to contain more left group specific content when we have an opportunity to meet Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party comrades, and so forth.

It is obvious to me that in order to reforge the left you have to go through the left and argue for a strategy with the left that will lead to progress and bring about the rehab of socialism as an idea accepted as a credible possibility by hundreds of thousands of people once again. However, to neglect the needs of those outside the left who are likely to become new recruits to the SWP or other sections is to surrender those comrades to the existing left, rather than winning them to its potential new and improved future.

The Leninist/CPGB has as an organisation from 1979 to 2009 been clearly fighting above its weight against the Eurocommunists, the ‘British roaders’ and the 57 varieties of Trotskyism and has achievements to boast for those years. I wonder, however, what it can achieve if it attempts to put a bit more meat on our bones in the coming decade, and whether, in order to go through the left, you sometimes have to go past it before it will take notice.

Past it
Past it

Greek party

On Saturday December 6 2008, 15-year-old anarchist Alexander Grigoropoulos was shot dead by police in the Exarhia district of Athens.

This was to spark weeks of rioting and the ascendance of a new movement in Greece. With this new movement came a rise in urban guerrilla activity, primarily from the Revolutionary Struggle and Popular Action groups. They believed that they could be the vanguard of this new resistance to capitalist and state oppression. However, their unrelenting attempts to avenge the death of Alexander by killing a policeman have lost them all sympathy. It is the masses that must bring about a revolution, not a handful of arrogant militants.

During the height of the demonstrations and direct action last year, students occupied university and school buildings, activists occupied radio stations and a general strike was called on December 10. Rioting spread throughout the country and even around Europe with clashes in Berlin between anarchists and police. Reports of arson and fighting between the police and protesters continued well into January. In the weeks after the main rioting, urban guerrillas began a wave of attacks on policemen and banks. The last attack was an explosion outside the Athens stock exchange on September 2.

But why did this violence occur? No doubt the Greek people were shocked and disgusted by the murder of Grigoropoulos. However, there were many other reasons that led to such a large-scale and sustained period of disturbance. Serious unemployment, privatisation, numerous government scandals and education reforms opposed by the majority all led to this struggle emerging. As well as this, the police in the country are hated by many for their ‘heavy handedness’ and cooperation with the fascist organisation, Golden Dawn.

The workers’ disgruntlement stems from the fact that capitalism has left them in a powerless and exploited situation. On top of this, they have been forced to put up with a particularly oppressive state. The workers showed their desire for change in the elections on October 4, ousting the conservative New Democracy party. It was clear for some time after the riots that the masses were no longer going to tolerate the ongoing scandals and neoliberal economic policies.

Although the movement born of the riots will undoubtedly have contributed to the victory of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement in the election, the workers and students will not forget how both the Greek Communist Party and the ruling party condemned their ‘blind rage’ last year. The solution to the problems faced by the workers lies with a radical Marxist organisation of the workers, not with the allies of the state.

It is no surprise then that the first anniversary of the death of Alexander Grigoropoulos saw more rioting. The ‘socialist’ government announced a zero-tolerance policy. Again we have seen pitched battles between youths and the police. The anarchist flag was flying from occupied buildings in Athens and police rode at protesters with motorbikes. Bricks and Molotov cocktails were thrown, but what will be achieved? Although we sympathise with the anger displayed by the Greek workers, it is crucial that the working class in Greece organise and use this militancy to change their society. Only through Marxism can liberation and equality be achieved. Only through fighting for Marxism can the Greek working class free itself from mass unemployment. Otherwise they are doomed to fighting more futile battles in the streets with the police for many years to come.

It is also a necessity that the working class across Europe takes notice of the struggle in Greece. This capitalist crisis will see heightened class conflict across the world and we must be able to set out our demands and our aims for the future, defending what we have won and pushing to achieve what we have yet to win. This means that the workers must have a party, without which we can never achieve political power and cast aside the bourgeoisie and their socio-economic system.

Greek party
Greek party

Closed borders

Phil Kent takes Willie Hunter to task for his opposition to the CPGB shibboleth ‘open borders’ position (Letters, December 3). It is suggested that Hunter is a victim of the “…confusion common on the left around open borders”. Unfortunately, in my opinion, Kent does nothing to lessen this confusion.

First the positive. It is excellent that Kent has replied to Hunter’s letter when the response of much of the ‘left’ would be to scream ‘Nazi scum’ or some such variation. It’s a useful device for them - much easier than thinking.

Kent claims: “The Marxist position has remained the same since its inception in the 19th century.” When one appeals to authority, it is as well to cite the reference, allowing the reader to decide the validity of the source material. Was whatever reference he is seeking authority from relevant initially and is it still relevant in the 21st century in a period of resource exhaustion, peak oil and environmental degradation? Concerns which simply did not exist for classical Marxism. Religion requires its adherents to take such things on trust, but this is of no use in a rational discussion. To be blunt, exactly what “Marxist position” is Kent referring to?

He goes on to argue: “We are for open borders because that offers the working class the best conditions for defending itself against capitalist exploitation.” This is a large claim and it would be interesting to know what evidence, if any, can be produced to support it. As it stands in Kent’s missive, it is simply an assertion.

In a non-sequitur the next sentence reads: “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.”

Possibly Kent simply ‘forgot’ more recent immigration - that of various Pakistani, Ethiopian, Somalian, etc nationalities, some of whom are inculcated with the most reactionary and barbaric ideas which they express via the Islamic religion. Far from wishing to integrate into British society, a - thankfully relatively small - minority wish to impose their barbaric ideas regarding women, jurisprudence and personal morality onto mainstream British culture. One does not have to be a lefty, simply someone who does not wish to live in the 13th century or before, to reject sharia law and all that goes with it as absolutely non-negotiable. Unless carrying out terrorist attacks on public transport in London is rated as “succeeding pretty well”, then it appears that immigration is not always the painless process that Kent describes. After all, the proof is in the pudding.

Kent rightly argues: “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.” If I wanted to be facetious, it could be pointed out that Kent’s use of the term “own country” rests on the notion of people feeling/being rooted within a nation or specific geographical area, which he seems to (quite rightly) regard as a Jolly Good Thing for everyone except, of course, the British working class, who, presumably, for fear of being labelled racist, must take on the cloak of anonymity in the face of our glorious, classless multiculturalism.

Colin McGhie uses the old and threadbare ‘argument’ that stops all debate: Hunter, with his ‘nationalist socialist’ paradigm, must be a ‘Stalinist’ of some type (Letters, December 10). Wow! That puts Hunter immediately outside the parameters of legitimate leftist discourse: no need to actually address his arguments then.

McGhie states that the British working class should “recognise its common cause with all sections of the working class, no matter what their racial or ethnic background”. This is clearly a correct position, but does not address the ongoing debate about migration and global population increase in the context of the very real issue of finite natural resources. “Common cause” is not the same as saying we should have open borders.

It seems to me that what both of these writers are saying is that the question of population increase in Britain and, as a corollary to this, immigration are forbidden topics. If the left cannot or will not have a discussion about these issues, then it is leaving the door open to the British National Party, English Defence League et al. For a group which has cogently argued against the no platform position, this is something of a contradiction.

Of course, the answer to the growing number of British working class people - not all of them white, by the way - who are feeling increasingly oppressed by circumstances beyond their control (cramped living conditions, degraded environment, etc), is that when we have the revolution, everything will be fine. Does most of the middle class left have any conception that this seems so far from the lived, material reality of many working class people that it almost appears as an abstraction? This is not to argue against positing communism as the only real solution for humanity. Far from it. But we are not going to get very far by sticking our heads in the sand.

If the Weekly Worker position is that the working class living in the inner-city estates can be expected to put up with mass unemployment, rotten housing conditions and a complete lack of hope for the future, and furthermore to keep quiet about it lest they be labelled as ‘racist’ by the ‘left’ - who appear to draw their ‘theory’ from a bizarre amalgamation of local council political correctness, social work procedures and community ‘empowerment’ nonsense - then at least be honest about it.

Closed borders
Closed borders


I enjoyed comrade Laurie McCauley’s report on Jack Conrad’s presentation to a London student meeting, and I would like to share further impressions from the same controversial evening (‘Jesus the communist’, December 10).

I was unsure how the meeting would unfold, as the deep division between Christians and Marxists suggested that the discussion was likely to be fundamentally split. Perhaps contrary to the expectations of most communists in the room, the Christians who attended were very eloquent and perfectly capable of carrying an argument without getting irrationally defensive or overly emotional. They knew their way around biblical history very well, were familiar with the most common arguments put forward by atheists and knew how to respond in a rational manner when, for instance, biblical inconsistencies were pointed out.

However, it was almost a bit saddening to hear the same people making the insane claim that ‘every single word in the Bible is true’. No doubt these were bright and passionate individuals, and I could not help but feel that it was a terrible waste to dedicate their enthusiasm to superstition and folklore when they could use it to make a difference in the real world.

One of our Christian guests made an impressive and unexpected move when she attempted to discredit atheism by employing identity politics. According to her, our presumed arrogance towards believers betrayed a typically European sense of superiority over the belief systems of the naive, uncivilised tribes from the developing countries, which would eventually come around to our enlightened ways. Apparently, we also neglected the fact that religious people have been massively involved in anti-imperialist struggles, the civil rights movement, and so on.

Comrade Tina Becker made a timely response when she pointed out that our approach differed, or should differ, from the patronising attitude of Richard Dawkins. Correspondingly, Conrad aligned himself with the central Christian ethic of loving one’s neighbour. This was all good and well; however, I think that in the midst of these assurances one important aspect got lost and remained undiscussed: the by and large reactionary role that organised Christianity has been playing in modern history, its unerring alliances with the political right, and the hostile and divisive attitudes towards various groups within the working class that it regularly displays.

This leads us to consider the question: is organised Christianity, through its nature, in league with the forces of reaction and consequently inherently intolerant to us as Marxists? As Conrad noted in his presentation, the Romans turned Christian philosophy into its opposite when they declared it to be their official state religion. In this respect, it might have been interesting to explore how the Old Testament and New Testament present us with two entirely different gods: one jealous, vengeful and fearsome; the other forgiving, caring and loving. In the New Testament, the Jesus character even goes as far as to render the Old Testament redundant, replacing the 10 commandments with only two, one of them being the famous “Love your neighbour as yourself”. Despite nominally adopting the Christian narrative, one may well claim that the Roman Catholic church, as well as all major Christian churches in its wake, felt it more suitable for their purposes to revive the vengeful god of the Old Testament.

Can you be a faithful Christian who believes that every word in the Bible is true, whilst personally maintaining communist politics? Is atheist propaganda a necessary component of our struggle? Unlike a comrade I spoke to over a drink after the event, I don’t believe it is a good idea to liken our vision of a future society to a ‘paradise on earth’ in order to appeal to the Christian mindset. Our society will be a superior, truly democratic and classless society that will ensure a dignified existence for every human being. But because we are human rather than divine, a communist society will confront us with a new set of problems that need to be resolved.

As the CPGB maintain in their ‘What we fight for’ statement, communism is not the end of human history, as ‘paradise’ is in the Christian narrative, but its true beginning. There was no time to discuss these and other questions, but I’m looking forward to the prospect of exploring them in a follow-up session.


No green

Is there anything radical, let alone ‘communist’, about opposing large-scale industrialised farming, whilst promoting practices like ‘roof gardens’, ‘little farms’, and allotments as serious alternatives (‘Blue wave needs red vision’, December 10)?

I don’t think there is. I don’t think that there is much progressive about opposing nuclear energy either, especially since wind turbines and solar panels aren’t any time soon going to be providing enough electricity to fuel the urgent large-scale economic development that more than half of humanity has been denied by the capitalist system.

Nor do I think it very radical to attack airport expansions. I wish to see a world where there is far more human mobility and travel beyond national borders, and I believe that eco-attacks on air travel will help further price poorer people out of international travel.

Marxism has nothing in common with the western, Malthusian, middle class movement that is modern environmentalism. Yes, we should recognise and explain that capitalism, as an unplanned, irrational system of production, can negatively impact upon our natural surroundings. But that does not mean that we should for a single moment accept the reactionary conclusions drawn by the bulk of green ideology, which is, in the main, diametrically opposed to Marxism.

No green
No green


James Turley writes: “Rather, we have to confront the political issues involved. There can be no question - the nationalisation of the banks is an immediate economic measure which should be high up the agenda for any Communist Party. Nationalisation is not a panacea in itself, as is obvious from these developments at RBS [Royal Bank of Scotland]. A nationalisation that puts the banking system under the democratic control of the masses, however, is a necessary measure for revolutionaries” (‘In another world’, December 10).

In his Critique of the Gotha programme, Marx ruthlessly criticised such demands, particularly the idea of socialists trying to cover their shame in raising them with meaningless phrases about “democratic control of the masses”.

He wrote: “Instead of arising from the revolutionary process of transformation of society, the ‘socialist organisation of the total labour’ ‘arises’ from the ‘state aid’ that the state gives to the producers’ cooperative societies and which the state, not the workers, ‘calls into being’. It is worthy of Lassalle’s imagination that with state loans one can build a new society just as well as a new railway! ...

“From the remnants of a sense of shame, ‘state aid’ has been put - under the democratic control of the ‘toiling people’. ...

“Secondly, ‘democratic’ means in German volksherrschaftlich [by the rule of the people]. But what does ‘control by the toiling people’ mean? And particularly in the case of a toiling people which, through these demands that it puts to the state, expresses its full consciousness that it neither rules nor is ripe for ruling!”

In his letter to Bebel of March 1875, Engels, in opposing similar demands by the German socialists for the bourgeois state to intervene, is no less scathing. He wrote: “Fourthly, as its one and only social demand, the programme puts forward - Lassallean state aid in its starkest form, as stolen by Lassalle from Buchez. And this, after Bracke has so ably demonstrated the sheer futility of that demand; after almost all, if not all, of our party speakers have, in their struggle against the Lassalleans, been compelled to make a stand against this ‘state aid’! Our party could hardly demean itself further. Internationalism sunk to the level of Amand Goegg, socialism to that of the bourgeois republican Buchez, who confronted the socialists with this demand in order to supplant them!”

More than 100 years later, socialists are still showing that they “neither rule nor [are] ripe for ruling!” and they continue to “demean” the programme of Marxism.

Are we to believe that Brown’s government will voluntarily grant such “democratic control of the masses”? If not, then does anyone seriously believe that the working class here and now are going to force this demand upon a Brown government, let alone a Tory government? If not, then who exactly is this demand aimed at, what is the means of its achievement? It is thoroughly pointless, and in fact less than that.

Trotsky in the Transitional programme says of the demand for the nationalisation of the banks: “However, the statisation of the banks will produce these favourable results only if the state power itself passes completely from the hands of the exploiters into the hands of the toilers.”

Are we seriously to believe that power is about to pass into the hands of the toilers? Are we on the verge even of the coming to power of a workers’ government? Of course not, so the demand for nationalisation is and can be nothing more than the old Labourite, Fabian and Lassallean demand for workers to place their faith in the good offices of the bourgeoisie and their state!