The two central questions for this election are what to do about the banksters and what to do about the failed ‘house of thieves’. My campaign is calling for the public ownership of the banks and radical change in the parliamentary system. The slogans of the campaign are “Put people first”, “Make the banksters pay” and “For a people’s parliament, not a House of Thieves”.
In case anybody is wondering about this “people’s parliament” this concerns the sovereignty of the people over parliament. It is the inverse of the present “sovereignty of parliament” (or the queen-in-parliament). That means the rule of parliament or, more accurately, the rule of the banksters over the people.
Hence the country is in a mess. It cannot control the banks. It doesn’t own and control them and it doesn’t control parliament. Without political reforms the banks will remain a law unto themselves. Two policies therefore go hand in hand - a democratic republic and public ownership of the banks.
The three major Tory (or bankster) parties - the Conservative Tories, the Labour Tories and the Liberal Tories - are committed to helping the banksters hold the country to ransom. They are protecting the corrupt parliamentary system by pretending to tinker about with it.
As far as I am aware I am the only candidate in England who is saying we need radical democratic reform and public ownership of the banks as an absolute necessity. They go together like a horse and carriage. In theory you can have one without the other. But in practice it is useless because the carriage won’t move on its own.
Sadly the Weekly Worker has not highlighted this central policy question, instead promoting all the other leftists who have ducked it, including the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. What happened to that famous question about the right to bear arms? I thought you would be chomping at the bit to ask candidates about that. I had my answer already written out and was waiting to be interviewed! Never mind.
For more details of the campaign please visit the website www.southbankbermondsey.org.uk.
Without a correct understanding of the unfolding crisis facing world capitalism, Paul Smith has already decided that the main lines of demarcation are between his version of Marxism and ‘Stalinism’, Labourism and social democracy (Letters, April 15).
Smith argues that ‘Stalinism’ attempted to destroy Marxism completely, alienated the working class and the intelligentsia, and even libels the Communist Party of Britain as the same as the BNP - ie, fascist and extremely nationalistic - while referring to me as illustrating the impossibility of unity between Marxists and Stalinists because I support Stalinist regimes.
This requires us to examine what Marxism is. But, before I do that, let me reply to Smith’s list of eight accusations aimed at myself. My reply to the third of these can also serve as a reply to Colin McGhie’s letter in the same issue.
1. He claims that I maintain that socialism does not entail the abolition of the division of labour. What I actually indicated was that the division of labour existed under socialism, the lowest stage of communism. Unlike the utopians of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, I agree with Lenin that there are two stages in the transition to communism. These two stages are politically demarcated by the existence of the state in the lower, socialist, stage, which testifies that the division of labour still exists. At the higher stage of complete communism, the state has withered away.
2. Smith claims that I defend bureaucratic controls over labour, a slander for which he provides no evidence. For me to defend bureaucratic control over the labour process would be defending Trotsky, who advocated the militarisation of labour.
3. He denies that Lenin was the author of ‘socialism in one country’. However, this is not a matter of controversy, but of textual evidence in Lenin’s writings, which most Trotskyists refuse to engage with on this issue. On the other hand, Colin McGhie argues that “Stalin skilfully developed the Leninist tactic of constructing socialism in one country as a strategy and used it to secure his position in the bureaucracy”, but he provides no evidence that Stalin used Lenin’s theory in this way.
4. Smith accuses me of claiming that those who provide evidence that Lenin opposed ‘socialism in one country’ represent liberal propaganda, but he provides no evidence to refute my argument.
5. He claims that I regard inquiry into Soviet political economy as irrelevant, but I only claim that this would be pointless with individuals who, like Smith, readily distort Lenin’s views.
6. I do claim that Stalin’s purges were necessary to remove the Soviet fifth column. Obviously, Smith’s ‘simple Simon’ view of the class struggle leads him to believe that the Soviet Union had no internal enemies.
7. Yes, I believe that many fifth column elements sided with Trotsky for their own reasons.
8. I do think that most of the intellectual followers of Trotsky are totalitarian ultra-leftists, constantly expelling those who don’t agree with them, while quick to resign over disagreements. This totalitarian mindset leads to fragmentation on the left.
Smith argues that unity is not possible between what he calls ‘Stalinism’ and Marxism. Marxism is the theory of the class struggle leading to the dictatorship of the proletariat and the transition to socialism. However, this does not prevent dogma from developing in relation to Marxism, prompting Stalin to remark in 1917 that he sided with creative Marxism against dogma. However, for Marxism to be creative, it must be concrete, and this led Lenin to write in his April theses that Marxism requires a concrete analysis of a concrete situation.
On the basis of Marxism, which they claim to uphold, people can come to different conclusions about the same issues. For instance, Trotsky called for unconditional defence of the former Soviet Union, whereas Smith, claiming to stand on Marxism and be a sympathiser of Trotsky, denounces me for retrospectively being a critical supporter of the Stalinist regime. Trotsky broke with people who refused to defend the Soviet Union unconditionally, but Smith wants to reject those who refuse to unconditionally condemn the former Soviet Union, and this he calls ‘Marxism’. The point I am making is that even Trotsky did not regard those who failed to defend the Soviet Union as Marxists.
Smith calls for the development of Marxist theory in a non-revolutionary situation that the proletariat can use to understand the present crisis, free from Stalinist influence. But a correct understanding of the crisis is nowhere to be found in any Trotskyist group, or any of the followers of dogmatic Marxism. As a result of dogmatism, not one of these groups have yet realised that the present contradictions of capitalism are superimposed on, and interrelated with, a more fundamental crisis in society arising from humanity having used up half of the oil formed by nature, and that the economic slowdown of recent years is energy-related. In other words, the world is faced with the peaking and decline of oil production, bringing on an energy crisis with implications for how we struggle for socialism.
If ‘Stalinists’ were the first to warn the Marxist movement about this, it may have something to do with having taken the side of creative Marxism against dogmatic Marxism.
Socialists and communists should be pleased about the Liberal Democrat surge in the opinion polls and the likelihood that they will at least share power after the general election.
Marxists generally call them a big business party, but the credit crunch and widespread hatred of bankers and the rich has shifted them to the left. Their manifesto is not perfect but it is far to the left of Labour’s.
Additionally, a good performance by the Lib Dems increases the possibility of real proportional representation, which could massively help far left parties, rather than Labour’s alternative vote con, which would introduce a big bias towards compromise politics.
I disagree with Andrew Coates’s assertion that there are “few better pilots” through Marx’s Capital than David Harvey (‘Not just a study aid’, April 22). I haven’t read Harvey’s A companion to Marx’s Capital all the way through; only far enough to determine that the author fails one crucial test - understanding Marx’s theory of value.
A major difficulty in reading Capital Vol 1 is that it does not follow the order of exposition - from the easily understood to the more difficult - to which most readers are accustomed. The conceptual framework of the book makes it necessary to put the hardest part first. Before he could write about surplus value, Marx had to examine the nature of value: the defining attribute of commodities, which renders them exchangeable in definite proportions despite their incommensurable use-values. Marx argues that the substance of value is simple, undifferentiated human labour. Ever since Capital was published, readers have been confounded by this claim, made more baffling by the fact that Marx’s argument for it - to be found in the final subsection of chapter 1, entitled ‘The fetishism of the commodity and its secret’ - is not exactly straightforward.
More straightforwardly (and skeletally), the argument can be summarised as follows. All human labour is inherently social in character (a premise that Marx does not state in ‘Fetishism’, but takes for granted). Individual labour must therefore figure, in any mode of production, as a component part of the total labour at society’s disposal. Capitalism, however, presents us with a seeming paradox: unlike older societies, it possesses no direct means (eg, communal decision, recognised authority or established custom) for allocating labour. Productive activity is rather carried on by individual commodity producers with an exclusive view to private gain.
How, then, does capitalist society manage to reproduce itself? According to Marx, it can only do so by means of the regular exchange of labour’s products between private producers in certain definite proportions. It is through exchange that individual labour times are compared and thus reduced to fractional parts of aggregate social labour. The exchange ratios ensure that each independent commodity producer will receive, upon the sale of his/her commodities, what s/he needs to continue working as before. Moreover, producers will work more if demand exceeds supply, and less if supply exceeds demand, until the necessary proportions are arrived at.
Hence, what is in fact a social relation among producers - the labour they must expend to meet each other’s needs - assumes, under capitalism, the form of a proportion among things, which seem to lead a life of their own. As Marx puts it, the social relations between producers are congealed in their products: labour is represented as value, and the labour time necessary for the production of a given commodity as the magnitude of its value. Hence arises what Marx calls the fetishism of the commodity, fetishism being the attribution of human characteristics to inanimate objects.
In his commentary on this section of Capital, Harvey, far from demonstrating a grasp of its central concept, gives strong indications of having missed the point altogether. After quoting Marx’s famous lines on commodity fetishism - “To the producers … the social relations between their private labours … do not appear as direct social relations between persons in their work, but rather as material relations between persons and social relations between things” - Harvey goes on to dilate about the relations between producers and consumers. He says the lettuce I buy and the breakfast I eat bear no trace of the conditions under which they were produced, and puts forward this correct - but, in this context, irrelevant - observation as the primary example of the way that the fetishism of commodities conceals the social relations that underlie them. Of the principal social relation that commodity fetishism masks - between producers - and the function of the commodity as a reified regulator of their labour, nary a word, even when this relation is spelled out by Marx in the very quotation that Harvey reproduces!
David Harvey is a man of impressive erudition and insight, but this gap in his understanding (if not uncommon, especially among English-speaking readers) is hardly trivial, and places a question mark over his authority as an interpreter of Capital. II Rubin’s Essays on Marx’s theory of value is, in my opinion, far more useful as a guide, at least to the foundational first chapter of Marx’s magnum opus.
The ABC of AV
In his letter (‘AV, not STV’, April 22), comrade Steve Cooke is rightly critical of the alternative vote (AV) electoral system proposed by Gordon Brown as a replacement for the discredited first-past-the-post. However, he nevertheless claims that “AV is probably the best method of electing a single office-holder - eg, a president or a party leader”.
Such a claim is pretty meaningless without specifying the criterion according to which AV is supposedly “best”. In fact, from a majoritarian viewpoint (majority rule), AV is quite bad. In my article ‘Proportional representation and Brown’s opportunist ploy’ (April 1), to which Steve actually refers in his letter, I mentioned the basic majoritarian postulate due to the great Nicolas de Condorcet: if there is a candidate, say A, who is preferred by a majority of the voters to each of the other candidates, then A ought to be elected. Such a candidate is known in the social-choice literature as a ‘Condorcet winner’.
As I showed in my article, AV violates this fundamental majoritarian principle. Here again is the toy example with which I illustrated this failure of AV. Suppose there are three candidates, A, B and C, and 17 voters, whose preferences are as follows:
3: A B C
2: A C B
4: B A C
2: B C A
4: C A B
2: C B A
Thus, three voters prefer A to B and B to C; the other rows are to be read similarly. Here A is the Condorcet winner: nine voters prefer A to B, and nine also prefer A to C. But under AV - since none of the candidates has a majority of the top-preference votes - A, who has the least number of these, will be eliminated, and the votes of A’s supporters will be transferred: three to B and two to C. So B will now have a majority and be elected - although, as we have just seen, a majority of the voters (nine out of 17) actually prefer A to B.
Perhaps Steve has in mind some other criterion, which he thinks should trump majority rule. If so, he should state what that criterion is.
By the way, as I mentioned in my article, a Condorcet winner does not always exist. The question as to who ought to be elected in such cases is a thorny one. Interested readers can find a recent survey of this subject by Dan S Felsenthal at eprints.lse.ac.uk/27685.
The ABC of AV
The ABC of AV