I thought ‘Delusion, distractions, dialectic’ was very funny ... especially the Grundrisse jive (January 14).
We need to oppose the sending of US troops to Haiti.
We should have no illusions that the US marines are there for humanitarian reasons. They are there to restore order. There is a probability that martial law will be declared. The Wall Street Journal states: “Relief groups said that looters on Thursday broke into at least one warehouse ... ‘The main issue that is coming fast is lawlessness’” (January 15).
It is clear that the marines are there to protect rich neighbourhoods. Breaking into a food warehouse is not ‘looting’: it is expropriation. After the flooding of New Orleans, soldiers were sent in. However, when poor people tried to obtain food, they were shot at and some killed by those who were there to ‘help’ them.
Haiti is being invaded by the US in the guise of humanitarian help. The probable result will be a US base.
As a communist, hopefully speaking in the company of other communists, I have to say I do not share the outlined view of Lars T Lih (‘Kautsky, Lenin and the “April theses”’, January 14).
There is no doubt whatsoever that Lenin firmly understood the centrist position of Kautsky (revealed since 1914) whilst on his way to Petrograd in March/April 1917. There was nothing new in Kautsky’s March 1917 outline for Lenin, especially so in the light of the concrete events then rapidly developing in Russia. The tenor of Lih’s conclusions suggests that Lenin retained belief in Kautsky’s ‘internationalist’ Marxist authority. But this is not true.
What distinguished Lenin at that time from any other Marxist since Engels and Marx themselves was his unique ability to distinguish between a rotten compromise, which he separated from as soon as possible, and an enforced compromise, whereby he sought to hold ‘opposites within his embrace’ that later he would work around, whilst creating the conditions to deliver the decisive counterblow - once conditions were favourable.
Lenin demonstrated this most distinctly from this period onward precisely because he saw the need to avoid making complications amidst the conquest of power, with all the attendant human shortcomings in leadership around him - both fellow Bolsheviks and internationally. This was something Trotsky himself indelibly learned from Lenin in this crucial period and the part-Menshevik in his soul was banished forever after, which forged him into the greatest Leninist after Lenin’s death.
Lenin was indeed a great teacher but our latter-day student has to understand his working conditions. Kautsky’s view had become abstract to Lenin’s dialectically probing mind and, moreover, Lenin would have had grounds for a fairly good judgement, in that he was with Zinoviev in Switzerland and on the sealed-train journey to Petrograd. Unquestionably, they would have discussed the February and March unfoldings and where the revolution was to possibly/probably go from this new plateau.
Knowing Lenin’s consistent demand to educate the party in the spirit and necessity of both objective conditions and socialist possibilities, he would have seen the need to declare his reaffirmation as a rearming of the Bolsheviks for both the dictatorship of the proletariat and the necessity for a socialist perspective that would become the consequence under that dictatorship. He knew only too well that the dangers of the ‘marsh and swamp of abstract democracy’ could, and eventually would, otherwise undo the party and the proletariat/soldiers/peasantry within the soviets.
This is important because within Lenin’s ‘April theses’ is contained both the positivity for the success of October and a potential negativity, subsequently realised in all the betrayals of Marxism stemming from both the 2½ Internationalists of Kautsky’s persuasion to the eventual national bureaucratism within Russia itself, embodied in the eventual Thermidor of Stalinism.
Reading this latest view of Kautsky, you immediately find further yearnings from him for peace in the imperialist war. His policy was for social democracy to return to some ‘abstract socialist evolution’.
After three years of imperialist war, all he wants is a return to a pre-war formula. The unMarxian viewpoint of Kautsky in relation to the social composition of this new ‘politicised Russia’ was simply that he condescendingly lectured his Second International in his time-honoured way - ie, the formulaic analysis of Russia as being overwhelmingly peasant and of not being ‘mature enough for socialism’ regardless of the liberal bourgeoisie’s clear ineptitude toward an attempt and a viable programme for power against the Romanov absolutism or the fact that imperialism had objectively revealed its complete negation of any progressive fundamentals - worldwide.
The Kautsky cowardice displayed toward his own big bourgeoisie was an SPD fuselage sitting between the rightwing Eduard Bernstein and leftwing Karl Liebknecht. We wouldn’t have long to wait long for his anti-Bolshevik polemic Terrorism and communism.
From his atrophied historical position, it was impossible for Kautsky to consider as viable a dictatorship of the minority proletariat and it was that which led him directly to the counterrevolutionary camp post-October.
We only have to see (if we choose to look) Kautsky’s attitude reflected in the overwhelming majority of the central committee of the Bolshevik Party immediately after the February days, an orientation - or more correctly from Lenin’s perspective, disorientation - in the concrete reality of dual power emerging and demanding resolution. We now know post factum that Lenin had ostensibly the second-tier Bolsheviks, leftward-moving workers and advanced battalions of soldiers on his side within and without the Bolshevik Party and soviets (which in early May was joined by Trotsky’s arrival and concurrence with the ‘April theses’).
Lenin, it shouldn’t be forgotten, was accused at the time, by most central committee Bolsheviks and not a few Mensheviks, of declaring for the programme of Trotsky’s Permanent revolution. That very same Trotskyist ‘dreamy view’ - so utopian, abstract and futuristic - a view that they had all learned by rote to dismiss. But Lenin wasn’t dismissing it now!
So, yes, Lenin did indeed bring socialism in with the ‘April theses’ as the essentially new component, but it didn’t take the shallow Kautsky to initiate the Marxian notion in Lenin, much as he respected all his former collaborators-cum-teachers and with whom invariably he sought to retain communist unity in the face of reaction. But he also knew that to go forward there comes a time when needs must, to decisively cut the tie that binds and eventually strangles.
Kautsky was objectively opening the door to the German counterrevolution. In Russia with Lenin it was the opposite.
In his article ‘World politics, long waves and the decline of capitalism’ comrade Mike Macnair makes a quite unwarranted attack on the Workers Power organisation (January 7).
Whilst I myself am not a member of Workers Power (I am a supporter of the Japan Revolutionary Communist League), I have several members of Workers Power amongst my friends. In my opinion they are all genuine communists. I must therefore protest at comrade Macnair’s attack on their organisation.
Comrade Macnair writes that WP longs for a very severe economic crisis. I believe this to be untrue. WP prepares for all economic contingencies, including a severe slump. But they also know that revolutionary situations can arise in times of boom too. Witness France in 1948, when 10 million workers went on strike and objectively posed the question of state power.
Comrade Macnair writes: “WP arguesthat the working class needs to create a state like the early Soviet Union, complete with the dictatorship of the party …” (which he later terms a “Leninist combat party”). I would argue - and I think that WP would argue - that what is needed is precisely a Leninist combat party capable of leading the working class to establish its soviets and to use these to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Regarding the Russian Revolution, Lenin and Trotsky led it on the assumption and understanding that the revolution of 1917 would be rapidly followed by a soviet revolution in Germany. However, in Germany what was lacking was precisely a Leninist combat party analogous to Lenin’s Bolshevik Party. The opportunity to create a soviet Germany was thus lost. This led to the isolation of the revolution in a backward peasant country. In turn this led to its degeneration, despite the efforts of Trotsky’s Left Opposition.
It is necessary to understand that if revolutionary situations take place without the existence of Leninist combat parties the working class can go down in terrible defeat. The 20th century has seen many instances in which, owing to the absence of Leninist vanguard parties, the working class has experienced this. For example, Germany 1918, Britain 1926, China 1927, Spain 1936-39, Indonesia 1966, Chile 1974 and others. Trotsky was absolutely right when he wrote in 1938 that the crisis facing humanity was reduced to a crisis of proletarian leadership.
Although it is not directly related to WP, another aspect of comrade Macnair’s article deserves comment. This involves his conception that capitalism is in decline. I would maintain that it is meaningless to talk of the decline of capitalism in the abstract. Capitalism can be defined by two factors: (a) commodity production predominates; and (b) labour-power is a commodity. The only meaningful decline of capitalism is its overthrow by the working class.
For many years capitalism has been kept intact by Stalinism and social democracy, especially by their hold on the trade unions. We need to keep in mind the fact that capitalism is developing rapidly, especially in China and, perhaps to a lesser extent, in India and Brazil.
Towards the end of his article comrade Macnair states that it is “probably decades” before the working class can “[begin] to act politically”. The above view shows how far comrade Macnair is from political reality. In many parts of the world sections of the international working class have been in action. In 2009 alone three million demonstrated against Sarkozy in France, with 2.7 million demonstrating against Berlusconi in Italy. Greece has been in ferment, as has Iran, along with several countries in Latin America. Militant movements have developed amongst the many-millioned working class in China. Sections of the working class in Russia have been demonstrating against Putin. In Japan the JRCL is winning increasing support amongst thousands of workers and students. The list could go on.
Comrade Macnair’s view is that a Communist Party should not take power unless and until it has won the support of the majority of voters. But Marxist philosophy tells us that the working class acts first and thinks about the significance of what it has done afterwards. It is this that has led Trotsky to write: “Scientific socialism (Marxism) is the conscious expression of the unconscious historical process: namely, the instinctive and elemental drive of the proletariat to reconstruct society on communist beginnings” (In defence of Marxism London 1975, p129).
A reminder is necessary that politically advanced workers can learn very quickly during the course of a revolution, provided that they are led by a Leninist party. Thus in 1917 between February and October the political level of the working class increased considerably, owing to the guidance of the Bolsheviks.
As already quoted above, comrade Macnair has written that WP argues that “the working class needs to create a state like the early Soviet Union, complete with the dictatorship of the party and the dictatorship of the leadership over the party”. This makes plain that comrade Macnair dissociates himself from the 1917 revolution.
This rejection of the principle of the 1917 revolution needs the close attention of all CPGB members. It should be recalled that the CPGB arose from an organisation calling itself The Leninist, which based itself on the teachings of Lenin. It should also be recalled that Lenin wrote: “... only workers’ soviets, not parliament, can be the instrument enabling the proletariat to achieve its aims; those who have failed to understand this are, of course, out-and-out reactionaries ...” (Leftwing communism Moscow, p65).
In total opposition to Lenin, comrade Macnair takes the view (fully set out in his book Revolutionary strategy) that communist parties should not attempt to lead a revolution until they had won the support of the majority of voters. This attitude is, of course, precisely the same as that of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, which today has about the same number of members as it had when it was first founded about 100 years ago.
All members of the CPGB who genuinely consider themselves to be communists should reject the ideas of comrade Macnair and return to the principles which were fought for by members of The Leninist.
Sex and power
It was with great horror and astonishment that I read SKS’s letter about the age of consent (September 17 2009).
His reactionary tirade recycles a number of platitudes popular among anti-sex feminists during the 1980s. The most damaging among these is an overly simplistic and reductionist view of sexuality. Because sexuality involves people enmeshed in power relations, it is easy to point to a single axis along which inequality between two categories of people exists and use that inequality to question the consensuality of any sexual behaviour between them.
So, for instance, adults have economic and political power, while children and adolescents have comparatively little. Therefore, any sexual activity between minors and adults is by definition abuse. According to this logic, the power to enjoy or to consent to sexual relationships is carelessly reduced to how power operates in another dimension of social existence. The idea that sexuality might have relative autonomy from other modes of cultural and economic domination is dismissed. And anybody who questions the dismissal, especially if he is a man, is subject to suspicions of wanting to ‘fuck anything in sight’.
Yet much can be learned from how these arguments about power are deployed. We rarely, if ever, see people like SKS arguing that sexual relationships between capitalists and proletarians, between geniuses and the less intelligent, or between bodybuilders and beanpoles, ought to be criminalised categorically. Certainly, the capitalist’s greater prosperity, the genius’s intellectual facility, and the bodybuilder’s brute physical strength bestow upon them advantages in certain social contexts, and these contexts can complicate the question of sexual consent. But almost nobody would claim that relationships between members of these social groups are a priori not mutually consensual and enjoyable. Talk about confusing.
Why is age singled out from these other power dynamics? According to SKS, the answer lies in scientific studies showing that young people and adults are sexually “very different” and “incompatible”.
The characterisations “incompatible” and “very different” do not sound scientific to me, but since SKS does not cite any specific studies, we can hope that the unnamed publications he touts are more reliable than early sexological studies that made similar claims about interracial sex. Following the lead of other Marxists (like those who released the edited volume Pink triangles), I am more inclined to approach the question from a historical materialist perspective. Like them, I think the answer has less to do with science than with the merger of capitalism’s requirements with anti-sex religious and political traditions.
Whatever the answer, it should be informed by young people’s voices rather than anti-sex moralising and half-baked references to ideologically driven scientific studies. It should recognise that young people are sexual beings with sexual desires, while also recognising that they are relatively disempowered both economically and politically. How to reconcile these facts is a tricky and urgent problem. It requires attention to, among other things, the power dynamics of age, professional relationship and class, each of which differs on a case-by-case basis. But it also requires that we abandon the age-of-consent laws as a failed, authoritarian model for understanding and regulating sexual behaviour.
The Communist Party of Great Britain should be lauded for understanding this, and taking a properly Marxist approach, even if SKS cannot and will not.
Sex and power
Sex and power
James Turley’s use of the term ‘demand’ rather than ‘policy’ is both an anachronism and infantilism (Letters, January 14).
Infants make demands for things that they are unable to get for themselves: they demand an ice-cream, an Xbox or a new Barbie. Adults go out and buy them for themselves. If a leftwing party puts forward a list of ‘demands’, they appear in a similar childish light.
There is also an anachronistic element to them in that they refer back to a time before universal suffrage or the establishment of parliamentary sovereignty - a time in 19th century Bismarckian Germany. In a period when the working class movement aimed to achieve full civil rights that they did not yet have, there appeared no alternative to demanding them.
But more than a century has passed since such formulations. Communist parties that gained power did not have ‘demands’ in their programmes: they had policies that they intended to carry out once in power. Gottwald and the Czech party did not demand the expropriation of the landlord class or the nationalisation of industry: they promised it. Mao and the Chinese party did not demand New Democracy: they organised an army to win it.
When socialists address economic problems, they should formulate policies that, when put into practice, would solve the problems. They have to break with the mentality of small campaigning groups and say what they would do if they had power. If they criticise government policies, it should be in terms of saying exactly what should be done instead.
This point is independent of how you think power is to be won. If you are an old Attlee or Benn-style social democrat, you are talking of what an elected government will do. If you are an advocate of direct democracy, you are talking about what policies you hope to put forward and argue for in citizens’ initiatives. But in either case concrete policies are needed.
Here and now
James Turley should not feel too despondent at waking up to find he was arguing Lassallean, not Marxist, politics in calling for the bourgeois state to nationalise the banks. As Hal Draper points out, as far back as the German SPD, the ‘Marxist’ movement has been influenced far more by Lassalle than Marx - hence its statism.
James is right to say that I have had many arguments with the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty over Iraq and the demand for ‘troops out now’. However, in all of those arguments, I made absolutely clear that I was highly sympathetic to the point that simply raising this demand could easily be interpreted either as a pacifistic appeal to imperialism to act morally or else, as in the case of the Socialist Workers Party, amounted to nothing more than a call for the victory of the clerical-fascist enemies of the Iraqi workers.
The whole point of my argument, as with that subsequently put forward by David Broder and others, was that it was possible to make the call for ‘troops out’ within the context of this being a mobilising demand for the self-activity of the Iraqi workers. But I was also keen to point out that, although such a demand could act to mobilise workers in Britain and the United States to take direct action, it could not be seen as a means of actually stopping the war, short of a direct challenge for state power.
As Trotsky said, “Where and when has an oppressed proletariat controlled the foreign policy of the bourgeoisie and the activities of its army? How can it achieve this when the entire power is in the hands of the bourgeoisie? In order to lead the army, it is necessary to overthrow the bourgeoisie and seize power. There is no other road. But the new policy of the Communist International implies the renunciation of this only road.”
It is essentially the same point he made in relation to the demand for the nationalisation of the banks. Outside a revolutionary situation in which the workers are challenging for state power, such demands amount to nothing more than pure reformism and act to mislead the working class. And, if the workers are to be mobilised, then the point of the mobilisation should be to achieve something of actual benefit to the workers, such as getting the troops out.
But what actual benefit to the workers does state capitalist nationalisation bring? It clearly has benefits for capital, but all experience of nationalisation shows that it is merely a means of the capitalist state carrying through rationalisation, of recapitalisation, and raising the rate of profit through more effective exploitation of the workers. James can refer us to the demand for ‘workers’ control’, as the Lassalleans did, but, I repeat, under present conditions what chance is there of achieving that and, even if it were possible, how long would it last short of an actual overturn of the state?
Moreover, if ‘independent working class action’ or ‘self-activity’ is to be reduced simply to such calls for the bourgeois state to introduce such reforms, why not extend it further? Why not raise the demand for the state to introduce ‘arbitration bodies under workers’ control’, so that workers did not have to bother with such tedious things as strikes to achieve their ends?
This is why Marx in the Critique of the Gotha programme pointed out that it was precisely the fact that the workers’ cooperatives were the direct product of the workers’ own self-activity that gave them their progressive character. Engels, in particular, made the argument that where firms were closing down the workers should take them over and run them as cooperatives. He argued vehemently against calls within the SPD for the bourgeois state to take the lead through state aid.
When Northern Rock failed, the workers should have occupied it and taken it over with the support of its customers. That could have acted as a spark to workers in other banks to have done the same. It could have linked up with the occupations at Visteon and Vestas, and set a precedent. It could still act as a precedent for Royal Mail workers.
That has been the experience in Argentina and, under such conditions, the workers do not have to beg for workers’ control: the very nature of their ownership gives it to them. They do not have to continually engage in a battle with the state capitalist owner of those means of production, because they are themselves the owner. And, under those conditions, the demand for ‘state aid’, to be treated the same as any other business, takes on a completely different character.
What is more, in the case of the banks, we already have a cooperative bank that such worker-owned banks could have tied in with, mobilising the entire labour movement around a demand for the democratisation of the existing cooperative sector and for the democratisation of the trade unions that would be necessary to implement real workers’ control. It could tie into the demand that workers have control over their pension funds, amounting to around £500 billion, to be placed with the workers’ own banking and financial cooperative.
None of this requires waiting until some future date of overthrowing the existing state, or appeals for it to act in workers’ interests, but is achievable here and now by workers’ own self-activity in the true sense of the term.
Here and now
Here and now
Paul B Smith is right to identify the concept of capitalist decline as a breakdown in the functioning of the law of value and the fact that the ‘free market’ becomes a contradiction in terms (Letters, January 14).
The state has assumed the role of a life-support machine for capitalism, pumping into the banks huge sums of money to prevent the thing from completely dying, whilst wages are cut (primarily by cutting hours) and pension funds raided.
The latest phase in the breakdown of the system is surely encapsulated in the weird phenomenon known as ‘green economics’, which Barack Obama and Gordon Brown are eager to promote. Under green economics, production that is held to disturb nature is fined, whilst the decline of manufacturing gets rewarded. Subsequently, there is a ‘carbon market’ that was worth $64 billion in 2007.
Carbon dioxide, as a waste product, has no use, yet it is exchanged as if it had value. The price of carbon can only be determined by bureaucratically invented targets regarding how much carbon needs to be purged from production (in Britain, 60% by 2050). The carbon market, by penalising actual producers, allows for a transfer of funds from the productive economies of the east to stagnant economies like Britain’s. In turn, some of this money gets paid to underdeveloped regions in order that they do not develop (the trees must be left standing).
The green economic bubble that is being created here depends on brainwashing the world with environmentalist ideology. Thus the Copenhagen summit was billed as a success, not because it achieved anything concrete regarding global warming, but because it encouraged everyone to think green. Commodity fetishism has been tweaked to imply we should fetishise green products and sneer at ungreen products. Green products are notoriously more expensive - I recently saw a notebook made from recycled elephant shit retailing for £5, 10 times the price of an ungreen notebook.
For paying the extra money, you are supposed to get a warm green glow inside. People who buy the green products are labelled ‘ethical shoppers’ and they look down on everyone else. Thus green economics provides the elite with a sense that they are special in an age where old-fashioned ideas of racial supremacy are no longer acceptable.
The green bubble, like all bubbles, will pop one day. But there is an urgent need for a critique of green economics, so that we can understand what is going on when that happens.