Drastic action

I agree with most of what you say in ‘Marxism, nature and proposition one’ (July 8) and I learned a few things too, but don’t forget, we harmonise with nature in order to better master it for ourselves.

Without some drastic human action there would be no cows in the meadow, or landscape in a garden, etc. In other words, we have learned to create natural harmony for our own purposes; and we constantly experiment to reach new, more fruitful, levels of harmony so that we may better exploit it. We act within nature for ourselves and our species.

Drastic action
Drastic action

Singled out

Although I agree with the general conclusion of his article, Peter Manson has seriously misunderstood the mechanics of AV. Peter writes: “... since each ballot paper will usually contain several votes ... it would be quite normal for two or more candidates to receive the votes of a majority of electors”.

Each ballot paper will not contain several votes. The elector only has one vote. It’s just that AV, like the single transferable vote system, allows them to indicate an order of preference as to who gets that single vote. In other words, the vote is transferable. It’s still only one vote, though. And that vote will only be transferred if the elector’s first-choice candidate is eliminated after it has been established that no candidate has a majority of first-preference votes.

Singled out
Singled out

Nine points

Eddie Ford correctly says that “it was always going to be the working class that would have to pay the price” for the massive financial crisis when “catastrophe was only narrowly averted by frantic and massive state intervention” (‘War on the working class’, June 24). Under capitalism, there is no choice, especially with the mainstream parties needing to avoid clobbering largely middle class floating voters.

It is easy to say tax the rich and bash the bankers, and saying so is very popular at the current time. But what, other than the token £2 billion the coalition will raise from its levy on the banks, which is chicken feed compared to the £375 billion bailout, would be the consequences of doing so? Companies and rich individuals would flood overseas. It is necessary to argue for the confiscation of their assets in this country if they do that and to spread the revolution worldwide so that there is nowhere to run. Unfortunately, few revolutionary socialists make such points even if they are aware of them. And if you don’t make such points, you ultimately lose the debate.

Eddie correctly points to the likelihood of a double-dip recession as a result of the cuts, and I’d add that a depression rather than merely a second dip is on the cards. He says “we need a strategy leading to an alternative society” (his emphasis). So what strategy does he propose? A “united Communist Party, guided by a principled Marxist programme”. Well, the Campaign for a Marxist Party didn’t take off at all, and the Greek Communist Party has been leading the protests there, but what has been missing in Greece is an adequate programme. That is more important than the precise form of party.

In the budget response special of the Scottish Socialist Party’s newspaper, Scottish Socialist Voice, Raphie de Santos proposes a nine-point transitional programme. He writes: “We would take the banks under full social ownership and control - they have £560 billion in liquid cash and £5 trillion of assets. This would not only allow us to recoup the £375 billion that we have ploughed into them during the financial crisis but allow us to fund socially useful projects. An example of this would be a renewable energy programme. The design, administration, construction, maintenance, running, assembly, commissioning and servicing of the programme would create hundreds of thousands of jobs and apprenticeships for our young and old.”

This sort of demand, alongside a call for closing tax havens and loopholes, is key to winning the struggle.

Nine points
Nine points


It would be pointless to go back through the correspondence in the debate between Heather Downs and myself to argue who said what (Letters, July 8). That discussion is there in black and white and readers can read what was said.

I entered this discussion when Heather cited the case of the two 10-year-old boys charged with ‘rape’ and her objection to the way in which the Weekly Worker had reported it, charging the paper with ‘liberalism’ and basically being soft on sexism. Since she never at any time conceded the obscene absurdity of current ‘rape’ laws as applied to consensual sex between children and pre-16 teenagers, there is a clear implication that she approved of the charge in general and the application of it in this case in particular. Her last letter now suggests she does not support the use of the word or the law in such circumstances - in which case we agree.

However, she then goes on to quote the statistics on ‘rape’ and what she considers the inadequate state response to them. Need I point out that these statistics include all the allegations related to those very voluntary relationships and activities between consenting teenagers and children which have been classed by the state as ‘rape’ and which she agrees are “foolish”? Again she doesn’t differentiate between the victimless, crimeless cases of ‘rape’ and actual rape, again suggesting she actually supports the charge and the classification. How else can we read this? She is putting forward two contradictory propositions.

Let us agree that, if the law was adjusted to recognise consensual voluntary sexual relationships and games between children and teenagers before the legal age of consent, we could clear away a whole swathe of rape charges, allegations and statistics about convictions, non-convictions and cases not brought to court. There then wouldn’t need to be any responses by the state to these natural and harmless activities.

Heather cannot get out of the fact that she talked about predatory sexual behaviour in the context of discussing this particular case, and that led to a deduction on my part that she considered the 10-year-olds to be sexual predators. Her last letter outlines again the case that they were.

Let me clarify that I do consider a 10-year-old to be capable of actual rather than statutory rape, just as I believe a 10-year-old is capable or murder. I’m not arguing that rape by a child is impossible. My objection to the current law, and what I assumed was Heather’s defence of it, is that any sexual act between children of either or both sexes is classed as ‘rape’ and kids are prosecuted and tried under that absurd law. This then is mixed into the debate about rape, convictions, predatory men and “inadequate state responses to sexual violence”.

It is essential in trying to take the blind emotion out of this discussion to draw a line between actual rape and some figurative ‘rape’. In other words, cases need to be judged on actual events and whether force and coercion were involved rather than simply an older child being present at a voluntary activity or relationship.

I mentioned in my last letter that there is a wing of the middle class feminist movement which sees all men, and apparently boys too, as ‘predatory’ and virtually all heterosexual behaviour as ‘sexist’. If I had to list examples of this, I’d fill the whole paper. Heterosexual men in the movement are constantly under observation for the slightest demonstration of sexism, such that most leave their sexuality outside of conferences and rallies for fear of being so condemned. Express the view that you like the way a female comrade looks, and you’re likely to be struck from the movement for life as a sexist bastard. You can be a giggling transvestite in a mini-skirt with pigtails or a gay couple holding hands and snogging over the political literature, but let anyone hear a bloke say he fancies one of the women! What?



I disagree with Peter Manson’s argument on the alternative vote electoral system (‘Fight for genuine PR’, July 8). Despite the fact that we recognise that bourgeois democracy is a sham, despite the fact that we recognise that we only enjoy bourgeois freedoms so long as we struggle to defend them every day, we do defend bourgeois democracy and bourgeois freedoms against attack by reactionary forces. This is because, if those reactionary forces succeed, some of the basic gains that have been made - gains that are themselves important for workers to be able to organise and to defend themselves - would be lost.

We don’t defend them by sowing any illusions in workers’ minds about bourgeois democracy. On the contrary, the classic example of how to defend bourgeois freedom against fascism was given by Trotsky in his Programme of action for France, where he argued for defence of bourgeois freedoms by setting up factory committees, peasant committees, workers’ militia and so on. In other words, measures of proletarian struggle and workers’ democracy.

And, of course, despite recognising that bourgeois democracy is a sham, for the reasons that Lenin set out in Leftwing communism: an infantile disorder, we are in favour of participation in elections and parliaments because, although we recognise that they are obsolete, the workers do not, and we have to go through these experiences with them to enable them to learn those lessons.

It makes sense then that as Marxists, whilst saying to the workers that bourgeois democracy is a sham, we also say we recognise that at the moment you don’t accept what we say. We are not in a rush; we will walk with you along this road. We will keep you company, confident that, as we walk and as we discuss the things we see along the way, you will come to agree with us. It makes sense that as part of that process we argue that this bourgeois democracy should at least meet its own standards. We should be consistent democrats.

As consistent democrats we cannot possibly support an electoral system that denies to large numbers of voters the right to have their voice heard in the corridors of bourgeois power. There is a downside to that. In a parliament of 600, a fascist party like the BNP would get 30 seats if it got 5% of the vote in a truly proportional system. That is not an argument against proportional representation; it is an argument for ensuring that the fascists are not able to win 5% of the vote.

The Liberal-Tory proposal for a referendum is a sham too. What kind of referendum is it that only allows voters to choose between two options? Even current bourgeois democracy allows as many parties as can obtain a minimum number of proposers to stand in elections. How can the Liberals put forward such a sham, and run roughshod over their own supporters with such a stitch-up, when AV is not a proportional system at all, and therefore does not meet the very criteria that Liberals have always insisted on for electoral reform? Worse still, were the vote to go in favour of AV, it would almost certainly rule out any further change in the electoral system for more than a generation, if not forever.

It’s suggested that, had there been AV at the last election, it would have made little difference. The Tories would have probably got around 15 fewer seats, Liberals 15 more, and Labour a couple more. But no-one really knows because it would encourage all kinds of weird tactical voting.

Contrary to Peter’s argument that voters might vote for the two major parties to keep out the BNP, the opposite is quite possible. In any election, it would make sense to try to only vote for your preferred candidate so that none of your other votes were cast for the next most likely winner. If that were not allowed, it would make sense to try to ‘waste’ these next preference votes. Imagine a six-way seat where Labour and Tory have similar support. A Labour voter might put Labour first, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty second, Monster Raving Loony third, BNP fourth, Liberal fifth and Tory sixth. The reason for voting in this order would not be because the AWL was their second most preferred candidate, but because they knew that they would be likely to get fewer votes than any of the remaining candidates, so voting for them second would be like wasting their second vote, ensuring it didn’t go to a party that might have a chance of winning, and so on, for the remaining preferences. A Tory voter might vote in a similar way. The result would be that some of the no-hope parties get lots of second or third preference votes, not because anybody actually preferred them, but simply in order to waste their second preference votes!

I have no reason to vote for such a flawed alternative to the current flawed system. If we are to vote for an alternative voting system, then we should be able to vote on a range of voting systems so that we can choose the most democratic. I am all in favour of such a vote. I am all in favour of such a discussion on a renewal of democracy, but without such a discussion, without such a vote, I will not give credibility to such a sham referendum. In fact, the Liberal-Tories have said that they want to introduce a range of democratic reforms. Good, but we should have a wide-ranging discussion of those too. They propose to reform the House of Lords. But the most democratic reform would be to just abolish it altogether. Why can’t we vote on that? Come to that, why can’t we vote on that even greater affront to democracy - the monarchy? Why can’t we vote to abolish that too?

The Liberal-Tories say they want to introduce the right of electors to recall their MPs, but they have not rushed to allow David Laws’ electors that right. They say they want to introduce greater democracy over the police. Good. But why should the public not have the right to directly elect not only police chiefs, but the top civil servants, the military top brass, judges and so on? Many of those things are even enshrined in the constitution of the United States, as is that other democratic right, the right to bear arms as part of a well-regulated militia.

British democracy and political institutions developed as a hodge-podge, introduced by edict from above, ceding certain rights to wider sections of the population only as and when the ruling class believed they had sufficient power and sway over the masses to be able to control it. In other countries, their written constitutions were the product of extensive public debate and discussion. The US constitution, for all its deficiencies, was based on all of those discussions about freedom that people like Tom Paine, Jefferson, Rousseau and others conducted and wrote about. We should demand no less for a liberal and democratic bourgeois constitution in Britain in the 21st century. Whilst conceding nothing to bourgeois democracy and continuing to argue that only a direct workers’ democracy can truly advance the interests of workers and the middle classes, Marxists should be at the forefront in proposing such a democratic revolution in Britain.

In fact, at the same time as organising meetings in every workplace, on every street and estate, through every trades council, every constituency Labour Party and in every town to discuss our alternatives to the Liberal-Tory cuts, why not include discussion of these elements, which could also provide alternatives? Our basic demand should be for the convocation of a constitutional convention to discuss the establishment of a British written constitution and bill of rights. It should be composed of delegates directly elected in each locality at similar conventions with each delegate firmly mandated on how they must vote. If the Liberal-Tories are serious bourgeois democrats rather than just charlatans, it is the least they should concede.


Studying Rita

Having read your article, ‘Tip of an iceberg’ (November 26 2009), I thought you might be interested in the conclusions we arrived at in 1999.

During the Vietnam war, widespread resistance inside the armies (Rita) appeared in the United States military and played a significant, though even today little known, part in the American defeat. At first it seemed that this resistance was a localised and temporary phenomenon, linked to, indeed caused by, the Vietnam war. However, it soon became apparent that quite similar resistance movements had developed inside many other militaries, although at this time these armies were not, or no longer, engaged in active warfare. Furthermore, resistance activities, including attempts at unionisation, continued in the US army after the end of the Vietnam war.

Detailed studies of such movements showed that soldier resistance is encountered in many, indeed most, countries above a certain threshold of capital accumulation - countries where the price and value of labour-power (wages, standard of living) is relatively high. Below this threshold, resistance, where it appeared, was initially an officer phenomenon, though under certain conditions it could and did spread to the soldiers (eg, Portugal, Papua New Guinea).

Countermeasures by the ruling classes of the highly capitalised countries, such as the complete or partial phasing out of conscription and the amelioration of the quality of soldier life, have reduced and altered, but not abolished, these resistance movements. In these rich countries soldier behaviour has changed quite dramatically and apparently permanently.

Even in ‘poorer’ nations the native ruling classes and their foreign allies can no longer count on the unthinking obedience of their armies. The successful revolt of the Papua New Guinea ‘defence force’ against the Sandline mercenaries in 1997, which saw the rapid politicisation of the rank and file soldiers and their subsequent alliance with the left against the Chan government, is a particularly striking example. It can be compared with similar developments in Portugal between April 1974 and November 1975.

Rita tends to be an unhappy, avoided subject for the left, however - although I personally have some difficulty in taking ‘Marxists’ and ‘revolutionaries’ seriously as long as they ignore military matters.

My personal involvement began more or less by accident. In the mid-60s I was living in Paris and was a member of PACS, the Paris American Committee to Stop the war - the war in question being, of course, Vietnam. PACS, most definitely a middle class and mostly middle-aged organisation, had no problems in supporting the American draft-resisters and/or draft-dodgers then pullulating in France and many western European countries. There they usually lived quite legally, often as students. The draft-dodgers/resisters came almost entirely from the same or similar classes as the PACS members, though these were usually several decades older. Here there was no problem.

But soldiers were another matter entirely. Then, in December 1966, an American GI showed up in Paris, stating: “I don’t mind burned bonzes, but I hate fried drivers” - he had no objection to Vietnamese monks burning themselves as an anti-war protest, but he, a driver, didn’t want to die slowly after his petrol truck was mined. Most of the respectable PACS leaders were thrown into a tizzy. The GI, who had come from the US army in Germany, was settled in France; he was first seen as an exceptional, isolated individual, but others, many others - dozens, scores, hundreds - soon followed. Desertion (actually often absence without leave) was a becoming a mass phenomenon. In fact, according to official army figures, 432,000 American GIs deserted during the period 1964-73.

But things soon became much more complicated for the anti-war and peace movements in the USA and in Europe. As more American soldiers began to resist, and as after 1967 these resisters no longer found themselves isolated within their units, they now tended not to leave, but to stay inside and fuck the army up. They were only occasionally linked up with leftwing, or rather ‘new left’, organisations, but tended to do their own thing. One of these, important as an easily visible indicator, was the GI newspaper - often printed on base, sometimes with civilian help. Over 400 (American) GI papers were published during and immediately after the Vietnam war.

As the GI resistance grew, the peace movements could no longer ignore it, but relations were often complex. Many peaceniks were students, and opposed the draft. Faced with resister soldiers, most of whom had volunteered, the ‘new left’ students became confused. Often they attempted to impose their ideas on the GIs. They had difficulties envisaging on-base resistance and initially tried to tell the soldiers that ‘Desertion is the only solution’. Struggles around bread and butter issues, such as hair length, mess-hall food or housing conditions, and above all against harassment, failed to impress the student peaceniks who spoke of imperialism and - in Europe - communism. I remember the utter confusion of a well-meaning French leftist when told by a GI activist: “Communism sucks. I live inside a communist conspiracy, the United States army, where you have no freedom, no initiative. That’s communism.”

But perhaps the biggest surprises came later, as the Vietnam war wound down and - for the US army - ended in January 1973. The draft was abolished. The American peace movement faded and GI resistance diminished, as the now all-volunteer US military was reduced from its maximum of approximately 3.7 million people to about 2.1 million. Most resisters - sometimes specifically targeted and offered ‘early outs’ - went home.

Many had assumed that Rita was directly linked to the hated Vietnam war. It would, we assumed, disappear after the Vietnamese victory. It did not. It only changed its forms. During the middle 1970s there was a serious attempt to unionise the US army, only ended when the civilian organising union, the American Federation of Government Employees (panic-stricken by the - for them - unexpected hostility of the military and political establishment), ran away. Other forms of action also continued, though now unconnected with the left.

But another enormous surprise - quite unexpected and still almost totally unreported - was the emergence, sometimes at the same time as in America, sometimes somewhat later, of a new, modern form of Rita in the militaries of nations where there was no Vietnam war, in fact no ongoing war of any kind.

Dutch soldiers, in many ways pioneers, organised in an officially recognised conscript union, the VVDM, which in a few years utterly changed conditions inside their army. French soldiers - quite illegally - demonstrated in garrison towns in Germany and France; Italian conscripts and (volunteer, professional) NCOs marched in their thousands. In Switzerland soldiers formed committees and published their own newspapers.

Rita does not mean that soldiers will resist any and all missions, but rather if a mission is repugnant to the rank and file it can no longer be carried out unconditionally.

Studying Rita
Studying Rita

Fear of fascists

Mike Macnair made some valid points about the mistakes of communist policy on fighting fascism in the past, but his overall position regarding the present does not stand up to scrutiny (‘Gerbils on a wheel’, July 8).

Macnair argues: “The basic fact is that ‘No platform for fascists’ and ritual confrontation as a tactic does not work”; and “We need to challenge the view that there is only one way to deal with fascism”. While no-one would deny the need to explore various means of fighting fascism, Macnair fails to offer any suggestion about what these means would consist of.

Basically, there are only two approaches: ideological or physical confrontation. In reality, the two are usually combined to one degree or another. Perhaps Macnair wants more emphasis to be given to the ideological aspect at the expense of the physical struggle - a dangerous folly in my view.

The essence of comrade Macnair’s mistake is a failure to grasp that the class struggle, including the fight against fascism, is a form of warfare. In any war, two armies fight to defeat each other. This struggle may take different forms, but all wars, including class war, are made up of two ingredients: attack and defence. According to Macnair, the tactics of the working class in the struggle against fascism should be limited to self-defence. But an army which only defended and never attacked would be surely heading for defeat as the confidence and determination of the other side grew stronger.

If Macnair were a general in a regular army, he would not be taken seriously for proposing such an approach. The argument that the left should limit its anti-fascism to self-defence is a coward’s ideology, which has no place in the revolutionary movement. Macnair’s policy of not confronting the fascists is reminiscent of Gerry Healy’s Workers Revolutionary Party, an organisation which left the dirty work of fighting the fascists to the Socialist Workers Party in the 1970s. I am hoping that comrade Macnair will not want to lead the CPGB down this Healyite road.

Many years ago I went to a meeting of the Revolutionary Communist Group held in Clapham. There were about 15 members of the group in attendance. Two fascists appeared outside the meeting to disrupt it, and the whole meeting panicked. It was obvious to me that a fear of the fascists was deeply inculcated within this organisation. Comrade Macnair, or whoever is formulating policy on fascism in the CPGB, should take care that they do not inculcate this fear of fascism within their own ranks - a fear which always hides behind the criticism of confrontation. The ideological struggle against fascism must always be supplemented with a physical struggle.

From a strategic perspective, fascism will only be defeated by socialist state power. Until then, the war against fascism must include both defensive and offensive campaigns, which means we must be prepared to attack them whenever necessary.

Fear of fascists
Fear of fascists