Simon Wells is obviously a big fan of the Election Meltdown stunt organised in Parliament Square on May 1 (Letters, May 13). He says it is “communism in action” and a living example of “democracy”. No wonder he does not like the critical remarks contained in our report by Nick Rogers.
Though the comrade is at pains to insist that Election Meltdown and the Democracy Village are “no short cut”, I think that this is exactly the problem. Savage attacks, including £6 billion of swingeing cuts this year, are on the way. People will resist through protests and strikes, doubtless. And we should welcome every protest and every strike. But the main question before us as Marxists is to unite the left in the fight for a mass Marxist party which can coordinate working class activity not only in Britain, but throughout Europe at the very least. Acts of resistance, including colourful protests such as the May 1 Democracy Village, have their place. But they cannot challenge for state power.
And here is the rub. There are a number of problems with the Meltdown approach comrade Wells stoutly defends. While its organisers emphasise the corrupt nature of the May 6 general election farce, they abysmally fail to provide any vision of transforming the existing voting system into a means of emancipation. The implication is clear. At least to me. The mass of the population will continue to be fooled all of the time; that is, until the enlightened minority finally summons the will to topple capitalism. No doubt it will seize power in the name of the majority. But how? Through a military coup by soldiers sworn to serve the queen, instead of self-serving politicians?
I am sure the Democratic Village represented, at least partially, the deep anti-politics sentiment amongst the population in Britain. Anarchism has certainly undergone a minor revival over the last decade or so. And there can be no doubt that Marxists must not only talk to these people. We must win influence and in the last analysis leadership.
But that cannot be done by pandering to anti-politics politics or mimicking the anarchists. So it is all very well Simon approving of the CPGB’s leaflet headlined, “Is this really what democracy looks like?”, because the picture accompanying it appealed to the anarchists on May 1. But this rather misses the point. Surely, under present circumstances it is the job of Marxists to bring to the fore the vital importance of theory, programme, extreme democracy and organising our class into a political party.
Compared with the promises of ‘revolution tomorrow’ anarchism, I know that this course might appear stuffy, boring, long-termist ... and impossibly difficult. But that is how real, decisive change will come.
It is unusual to see an unsigned article in the Weekly Worker (‘Workers’ defence’, May 13), but seeing the subject matter the cowardice of the writer might be understood.
The tragedy of the deaths of bank workers in Greece is the occasion for a declaration of war by the CPGB (PCC) against anarchism. No matter that no evidence need be provided to prove the guilt of the anarchist movement as a whole or even in detail for this crime. For your anonymous would-be Chekist, it is enough that we exist to condemn us.
I look forward with some interest to the next demonstration when I will expect to see the mass ranks of the CPGB (PCC) workers’ defence squad ranged against a skinny white bloke with dreadlocks and a dog on a string.
David Bates’s review (‘Integration and working class culture’, May 13) of Dave Renton’s book Colour blind? Race and migration in north-east England since 1945 prompts me to read the book, which I haven’t done yet, and I will look with interest at the section on Arab seamen in South Shields.
My own dabbling into this area of labour history research (in my unpublished work on the Liverpool waterfront, The struggle for organisation 1850-1890) led me to emphatically refute any notion that the South Shields riots in 1919 were “race riots” at all. David’s piece states that they were and, presumably, either this is his own interpretation from the book or it is the author’s overt conclusion.
The Arab seamen were members of the seafarers’ National Minority Movement faction. They were more influenced and inclined towards communism and the CPGB than toward strong demonstrations of religion and Islam. H Wilson, the rightwing leader of the National Union of Seamen, was at that time dividing the union along race lines. In a time of declining work, he was making deals with reactionary ship-owners and merchants to employ only ‘British union seamen’. However, the Yemenis to all intents and purposes were British union seamen (Aden being ‘British’ and seafarers from there having British passports). Indeed, they were among the union’s strongest supporters since they were first introduced to work as stokers in the first steamships.
The regional union policy was to ship seamen in date order and seniority regardless of ethnicity, and no seafarer would sign on any ship or at the shipping office ahead of comrades whose turn it was, be they Arab or white. The Tyneside seamen, heavily represented by the local Geordie-Yemenis, mounted a picket line and lobby. When non-union white seamen made a rush to register, the riot started. It was class struggle, it was moderate against militant, it was communist seamen against rightwing reactionary ones. It could not (unless this book proves me wrong) be called a ‘race riot’ by any stretch. Race played a part only insofar as the militants were predominantly Arab and they tended to be armed, and the scabs and police happened to be white. It was, however, not about colour or race.
The Communist Party had stated their intention that “South Shields shall be the eye of the storm” in the clash with Wilson. That port was heavily influenced by the hundreds upon hundreds of militant Arab seamen loyal to the National Minority Movement. It was inevitable that in the clash of class-consciousness and the struggle for the direction of the union, Arab seamen would feature strongly both numerically and in tenacity. However, that involvement doesn’t make it a racial struggle as such or a race riot.
However, I live, learn and will read this new book with an open mind.
The conviction by a Malawian court of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga on charges of homosexuality is the latest example of how, more than four decades after most African nations won their independence, the evils of colonialism continue to wreck lives. The two men face up to 14 years jail under laws that were imposed on the people of Malawi by the British colonisers in the 19th century. Before the British came and conquered Malawi, there were no laws against homosexuality. These laws are a foreign imposition. They are not African at all. Despite independence, these alien criminalisations were never repealed.
Today, the minds of many Malawians - and other Africans - remain colonised by the homophobic beliefs that were drummed into their forebears by the western missionaries who invaded their lands alongside the conquering imperial armies. The missionaries preached a harsh, intolerant Christianity, which has been so successfully internalised by many Africans that they now claim homophobia as their own culture and tradition.
While many African leaders decry homosexuality as a ‘western disease’ or a ‘white man’s import’, the truth is very different. Prior to colonisation, many tribal societies and kingdoms had a more relaxed attitude to same-sex relations than the subsequent colonial occupiers. As Rudi C Bleys documented in his book The geography of perversion, the existence and, sometimes, toleration of same-sex acts was used by the colonising European nations to justify what they saw as their ‘civilising’ mission. To them, homosexuality among indigenous peoples was proof of their ‘barbarity’ and confirmation of western theories of racial superiority.
Homophobia in Africa is mostly a colonial imposition - but this is no excuse for these now independent nations to perpetuate colonial-era anti-gay laws and attitudes. It is time to finish the African liberation struggle by ending the persecution of gay Africans.
With reference to the CPGB’s Draft programme (February 11), are you saying that you oppose small businesses? And would you oppose, say, someone who was offered a supervisor’s job?
I’m totally in favour of small business over big business. And I support cooperatives, but I think that you need supervisors and managers. I also think it’s possible to nationalise a cooperative and have supervisors and managers and still have a union.
Where does the CPGB stand on the Taliban? I oppose these thugs. And I don’t support Hamas either. Nor do I support the Real or the Continuity IRA.
Do you have a sister organisation in the United States?
I counted about 19 electoral groups or ‘parties’ of the socialist and Marxist left in the general election of May 6. How absurd. How Monty Pythonesque.
The Tory Party rallied behind its leadership and remains, so far, united. We will see if the Tory-Lib Dem coalition cracks, leading to another general election, in the weeks and months ahead. But the socialist and Marxist left will never command the respect and support of the working classes until it puts its own house in order and is capable of forming a stable, mature, consistent leadership in a unified party.
If sterling is attacked, as was Greece, there will be no protection in the euro zone for the British economy. Perhaps the Tories will yet go cap in hand to the International Monetary Fund under terms worse than those inflicted on the Greek government? Worse still are ideas floated in the financial pages of the bourgeois (and ultra-left!) press that the solution is for the Greeks to default and leave the euro zone, and some in the bourgeois press then hint that a military junta would be the only other solution.
Perhaps the left is like the Italian left between the end of World War I and 1922. As Gramsci said, the failure to unite, following Mussolini’s coup d’etat in Italy, led to over 20 years of defeat (fascism and war). The left should beware of calling for the failure of the European Union and the euro zone, with no unified left across Europe, and when the goal is wide open for reaction to fill the vacuum.
The inability of the left to produce unity, its talent for splits and schisms, urgently needs to be studied and resolved. Specifically, we need to study the Italian and German left again, in the light of our own failure to make a breakthrough since the banking crisis became generalised after 2007, if we are to learn the lessons and not allow history to repeat itself, not just as farce, but as tragedy. The banks and the money markets must be tamed and rendered subject to workers’ control and then, ultimately, a democratic, socialist, federal Europe.
Whilst the Labour Party has dragged its feet over constitutional and electoral reform, the “battle for democracy” (Marx) has yet to be won.
The article on Greece (‘Europe and the Greek contagion’, May 13) presents the Greek left as being anti-EU when, in reality, they are committed Europeans who stand candidates in all Euro-elections and take up seats in the European parliament.
Thirty-odd years of EU membership have brought Greece to the brink of bankruptcy. The Franco-German bloc, which runs the EU, presents itself as a benevolent charity, an Oxfam at large, that supports the small nations, develops them and integrates them into a higher, more developed standard. The exact opposite is the case.
Greece was deindustrialised in the last decade. A whole swathe of previously public sector companies has been privatised - eg, Telecoms, Olympic Airways, etc. Coupled with annual arms budgets in the region of $7 billon annually going to the EU and the enforced investments of billions in the wider Balkan region, we have the small nation attempting to survive while two countries spend over 70% of the EU’s budget - Germany and France.
Just as Latin America attempted enforced dollar parity on all the currencies, which ended in tears, so what has started in Greece will spread and bring down the euro, whether we like it or not. The idea, as presented in James Turley’s article, that revolution has to be coordinated throughout Europe before it happens, is absurd and goes against the whole history of Europe.
Tony Clark is correct inasmuch as a simple empirical search for ‘fighting formations’ is not enough to conclude whether an organisation is fascist or not (Letters, May 13).
I do not share wholly the reticence of my CPGB comrades in calling the BNP fascist - my judgement is that the fascist past remains, inasmuch as the core cadre base of the BNP is still composed of hard-liners, whose commitment to the Griffinite electoral turn is limited to its usefulness in triggering the apocalyptic ‘race war’. For these people, it is redundant to point out that they don’t as of now constitute paramilitary fighting formations, any more than it is unMarxist of the CPGB not to start organising a workers’ militia tomorrow afternoon. It is clearly a strategic aim with some traction in the BNP.
Exactly what’s in Griffin’s head, nobody knows - perhaps he genuinely is a ‘reformed character’, and now merely a bigoted ‘lost Tory’ toff rather than a bigoted partisan of neo-fascist esoterica. But it seems clear to me that there is an uneasy truce in the organisation, which may prove to be fragile in the future. What we can expect out of the BNP depends on innumerable variables, great (eg, the severity of the crisis) and small (eg, the strength of Griffin’s grip on the BNP machine).
That said, if fighting formations are not the grand historical essence of fascism, we are entitled to ask comrade Clark exactly what is. After all, its various ideological trademarks - authoritarianism, racism, anti-Semitism - have always been present and correct in the Tory Party, and have had their days in both major American parties, at the very least. Organising autonomously from the state is something that distinguishes fascism from other enemies of the working class - it is something Clark needs to replace rather than just rubbishing, which rather leaves the impression that fascism exists wherever somebody is called a fascist by somebody else.
I also take issue with the notion that this is a discussion with much practical relevance to what we do about the BNP. Yes, Dimitrov is right inasmuch as he says that fascism has different historical forms, and is perfectly able to reorient itself strategically (the BNP is a case in point, but one could find examples in the career of Hitler as well). Our strategic objective, however - and the only way to stop the growth of fascism with any success - is the rule of the working class.
We are concerned with fascism inasmuch as it presents an obstacle to that, and an obstacle it certainly is in times of social crisis. Right now, we have far more pressing obstacles - the persistent authoritarianism of the state apparatus, for a start. A migrant is more likely to be messed around by the immigration cops than BNP cadre these days. We should mobilise locally to defend minorities and migrants from attacks, of course, but it shouldn’t matter whether the attacks fit some technical definition or other of fascism. We should concern ourselves with determining what threat is truly posed by the BNP in these historical circumstances, and responding to that threat sensibly. Conjuring up the baleful visage of Hitler whenever Griffin shows his face (although, with that haircut, he is asking for it) is itself an obstacle to this task.