How about calling for a democratic socialist culture where everyone has the right to express their views? When people start calling for a specifically ‘Marxist’ culture, you can be certain that they are on the way to turning Marxism into a secular religion, and this is only one step away from totalitarianism in the ideological field.
Paul Smith says that he defines Marxism “as the knowledge that the proletariat needs to rule and create the conditions for a democratically planned, classless society worldwide”. This is a peculiar definition of Marxism, because Marx wrote very little about a future socialist society and deliberately refrained from doing so.
Smith blames all the errors of Marxism on Stalinism, but some of these errors can be placed at the door of Marx himself. For instance, the latter famously described religion superficially and one-sidedly as “the opium of the people”. Where did this lead? It led to the persecution of religious people by communists. Thus Marxism alienated millions of people from communism because, not unsurprisingly, they came to see communists as a mortal threat. In other words, Marxism pushed millions into the open arms of counterrevolution.
Secondly, Marxism, formulated in the 19th century as a critique of bourgeois political economy, is not based on an understanding of the energy revolution which made industrial society possible and, like bourgeois economics, is mostly not cognisant of the consequences of the energy decline and the present unfolding, energy-related economic crisis.
In the second part of his article (‘Stalinist barriers to study and thought’, March, 3), Smith writes: “... crisis, therefore, poses the possibility not only of recovery, but also of decline and termination of the system”. In fact, here we see that the real barrier to study and thought which Smith himself is suffering from is not ‘Stalinism’, but 19th century Marxism, unrelated to the understanding of the energy crisis and the impending oil shortage. This orthodox Marxism enables Smith to posit the possibility of a recovery for capitalism, where if the energy picture remains the same the possibility of capitalist recovery is zero. So once more I have to remind people that this crisis of capitalism is permanent. Smith, like most Marxists together with 99.9% of the global population, remain in collective ignorance or denial about the consequence of the watershed peak in world oil production.
In concluding his article, Smith wants to know how people on the left define Marxism. There are several different definitions of Marxism, but what is important is what they all have in common. Marxists are people who believe that communism is a product of, and dependent on, advanced technology. In other words, they believe that what makes communism possible is advanced productive forces. The existence of communism in pre-history, or even in Inca socialism, doesn’t support this Marxist view.
Consequently, I now believe that, in principle, communism was possible at any stage in world history. Its absence was a matter of ideology, not of productive forces. I think that those individuals on the left who think that communism is simply a matter of constantly expanding the productive forces rather than working towards a steady state economy are now part of the problem, not the solution.
On Saturday March 5, members of Communist Students joined the march that had been called by Manchester Coalition against Cuts to protests against this year’s spending cuts and, more specifically, the £110 million worth of cuts to services that Manchester city council was set to vote through on March 9, which coincidentally, considering the slash and burn nature of these cut, is the same day as the Christian festival of Ash Wednesday.
The march from All Saints Park to Albert Square outside the town hall was attended by roughly 1,000 people. It was a diverse crowd with many parents bringing along their children for the day, some of whom were wearing T-shirts bearing the truism, “You cut, we bleed”. The march was the biggest in Manchester since the student protests of the autumn last year and the difference in its nature was noticeable. Whereas the police had come out in full force for the marches last year in anticipation of scuffles, their presence this time was somewhat more subdued and the crowd’s mood reflected this. There were no attempts to storm the town hall, close roads or veer off prescribed routes, as there had been last year. Rather the crowd seemed content to march and chant, and unwilling to raise the level of militancy. One would like to put this more subdued mood down to the presence of many children, whom it would have been highly irresponsible to involve in potentially violent affairs, but one could not help suspect that, even without the presence of children, the assembled mass would not have been willing to venture outside the realm of legality. If this was the case and the feeling is reciprocated all over the nation, then it doesn’t bode well for the chances of people power preventing the current assault on working class living standards.
In between waving the red flag of revolution amongst all the placards decrying the Tories, bankers and Top Shop, CS members distributed 300 copies of our latest leaflet, titled ‘We have a world to win’. The leaflet was produced as a way of explaining to the people on the march, many of whom were protesting over single issues such as the closure of their local library or Sure Start centre, that the closures of public services in Manchester were but part of something much bigger. The cuts are in fact part of the attack by the ruling capitalist class on the working class worldwide. That the cuts are not simply the result of greedy bankers or nasty Tories (although they are belligerent), but rather the inevitable result of the way in which the capitalist economic system that we toil under functions and that to truly defeat the cuts agenda we have to defeat capitalism itself and work for the communist revolution.
Everybody we spoke to seemed quite receptive to the ideas of Marx and many who weren’t at first became so when we explained that the struggles of the working class in Britain are being shared by the working class of the Middle East, Greece, Ireland, Spain, France, Italy, America and every nation in between. The images on the news of the struggles in the Middle East seem to have made many more people receptive to internationalism than before.
The one aspect of the day that could have been marked out as a potentially crippling weakness for the fight against the cuts was the sheer variety of literature being distributed to the crowd. Organisations out in force that day included the Socialist Workers Party, the Green Party and Respect. In addition there were members of Socialist Resistance, the Campaign against Climate Change, Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism, Revo, the Anarchist Federation, Coalition of Resistance and numerous local cuts campaigns, all vying for attention.
There still seems to be a lack of unity in the campaign, draining resources that, if pooled, would be able to offer more effective opposition to the austerity agenda than at present. Our enemies in all their offensives against our class pool all of the resources, information, skills and minds available to them in order to counter any challenge posed to their interests, and our class must do likewise if we are to have any chance of protecting the gains we have fought for and won over the last 200 years.
Maciej Zurowski’s analysis of the long-standing debate about whether homosexuality is a genetic predisposition or a psychological choice was correct (‘Lady Gaga and the “gay gene”’, March 3). I agree that the development of the gay identity as a strictly separate, innate orientation has origins in Victorian divide-and-conquer tactics.
However, I would say that such arguments are not relevant for Marxists and are part of the identity politics which distracts our attention from class struggle. The bourgeois state has now abandoned official homophobia. The liberal bourgeoisie now use a different tactic to pacify the working class: they have watered down the radical element of LGBT culture so that it becomes yet another area for class division and commodity fetishism to expand in, thus ensuring the working class remains pacified with consumerism. Indeed, as a socialist, if I go on a gay pride demonstration now I feel very little to be proud about.
Why should a socialist like me feel ashamed of the LGBT scene? The scene is very much a rich person’s world. Even if you have the money to go to a club, you will find it very difficult to fit in unless you wear expensive designer clothes. That is before you take into account the hidden costs of the cloakroom charges and price of drinks. There are gay establishments in London which do cater for a more proletarian clientele. Many provincial pubs and clubs are often the focal point for LGBT people in those communities. Thus there is more of a welcoming atmosphere - even to those not wearing expensive clothes.
In spite of this, for someone of my generation the idea that gay rights activists once organised support for strikers during the 1984-85 miners’ strike is a world away from the shallow individualism and consumerism of the modern bourgeois gay scene.
Equally, conservative rightwing capitalism finds its expression in the LGBT community. The writer mentions the marginal expression of LGBT support for the imperialist wars against Muslim countries embodied in the LGBT division of the English Defence League. However, there is more to it than gaining support for war. There has always been a rather disturbing link between homosexuality and the political far right. The frustration of non-procreative sexual desires in the bourgeois family was seen by the psychologist Wilhelm Reich as a way of creating fear and embarrassment about one’s own sexual impulses, which in turn ensured psychological conformity with corporate fascism and Stalinist state capitalism.
Bourgeois sexuality is not simply restricted to repression: it can find its most extreme expression in acts of sexual violence. The philosophy of cruelty and absolute freedom espoused by the Marquis de Sade reflects the extreme authoritarian nature of many fascist regimes and can provide some disturbing insight into the extreme effects of bourgeois sexual repression. Sadomasochism finds its political expression in the political philosophies of the far right.
What is to be done? Socialists must unite the heterosexual working class and the homosexual working class to achieve its common goal. We must abandon identity politics and concentrate instead on class as the major division in our society. At the same time, we must advocate general sexual liberation. In practical terms, that means those of us who cling to the parliamentary route must do the following: campaign for equal recognition of gay civil unions with marriage and to promote general sex education in schools, including the teaching of homosexuality from a young age.
As someone whose maternal grandfather was killed in World War I, I have never been happy that the Earl Haig Fund has been largely dependent on the annual poppy appeal. Field marshal Earl Haig, commonly known as ‘Butcher Haig’, was a true blue blood who never gave a damn about the cannon fodder he sent over the top to certain death. Two million soldiers died under his command, including at Passchendaele and the Somme. He was the Royal British Legion’s first president; its HQ is Haig House. So we have good reason to question what the poppy really stands for.
Many contribute to the poppy appeal each year in order to help servicemen and women disabled in the course of military duty. Why? Because the state has failed disgracefully over decades to make proper provision.
But to look more closely at what the poppies symbolise, rather than at what money for them goes toward, is to see an unattenuated glorification of imperialist adventures that led to death and destruction. That may be why some anti-war protestors burnt the damn things during a Remembrance Day two-minutes silence last November near the Royal Albert Hall.
Unfortunately for the protestors, the British state - the very state that is responsible for over two centuries’ carnage and for spawning monsters like Haig - attacked them through its laws. Accused of burning oversize poppies under section five of the Public Order Act, Emdadur Choudhury, a member of Muslims Against Crusades, was found guilty and fined £50, while Mohammed Haque was cleared. Others at the protest had allegedly chanted “British soldiers - burn in hell”.
Of course, I would argue that protests couched in such terms are counterproductive. Propaganda designed to split workers in uniform from their modern Haigs is far more effective and therefore politically astute. Indeed such propaganda worked stateside during Vietnam protests, and there was not one documented case of peaceniks verbally abusing serving personnel or veterans, subsequent Hollywood lies notwithstanding (eg, Rambo).
Be that as it may, Choudhury and other such demonstrators must be free to offend without the weight of the law coming down on them. And their political opponents must have the right to criticise them. That someone may be offended, get upset, or even become apoplectic is absolutely no reason to render ‘offensive behaviour’ illegal. These things are, after all, part and parcel of the rough and tumble of politics.
Outrageously, the district judge who found Choudhury guilty stated that freedom of expression is not unlimited and that some who saw the poppy burning suffered “harassment, harm or distress”. Who was harassed or actually harmed? Many of us are daily distressed by the continued existence of capitalism, its satraps in government, and what they inflict on people and the environment; I doubt we shall see those responsible prosecuted any time soon.
Used against these quasi-Islamist demonstrators one day, these legal attacks will inevitably be trotted out against the left the next. Now I’m off to burn a ‘butcher’s apron’.
Chris Knight’s Pentacle plan for London on March 26 certainly sounds like fun and I hope to be at Trafalgar Square when the Shiraz starts flowing (Letters, March 3). I worry though whether the doubtless very strong magic of the spell which will see the electricity being turned off all over the city has really been thought through? There would be safety implications, such as tube trains stuck in tunnels, street lights blinking out, people trapped in lifts in tall buildings and other sundry dangers and inconveniences. Meddling with magic is really not advisable.
Not to worry, however, because the police (wizards division) will be on hand at the witching hour and at all the other specific times carefully outlined in the ‘battle of Britain’ plan (www.battleofbritainmarch26.org) to defuse in the usual manner this and all other activities they deem to be mischievous, big spoilsports that they are.
The level of helpful detail leads me to speculate whether all this information, so widely disseminated and publicised, is actually part of a cunning plan on the part of Chris Knight and Liberate London intended to confuse and distract the cops, with the real actions meanwhile actually occurring elsewhere and being entirely different from those described. If I have stumbled upon the truth, I promise not to breathe a word of it.
I do hope “all hell breaks loose” in a peaceful kind of way, though. It is intended to be a family day out, after all. I doubt whether the massed ranks of the constabulary and all their little helpers in the TUC, with their thousands of stewards in constant phone contact with the police, will in fact allow even the tiniest little spark to be lit, never mind a conflagration, metaphorical and all, as this image of hell is supposed to be.
Still, I will be waiting with great anticipation by the fountain for the turning of the water into wine (it’s been done before so I’m sure it can happen again) and maybe a bit more than the usual boring trudge will occur. Good luck with it but keep your ‘What to do in case of arrest’ card and the phone number of your solicitor handy.
The royal wedding on April 29 is likely to run into difficulties.
The Police Federation has set its sights on the security preparations leading up to the event, threatening some kind of industrial action in protest at Theresa May’s attacks on their pay and conditions. Then there is the problem of the Saudi and other royals on the guest list, some of whom, by April 29, may have been overthrown in the wave of democratic revolutions now sweeping the Arab world. Third, there is the problem of Prince Andrew and his intimate friendships with savage dictators, sex offenders and crooks of various kinds. Fourth, there is Her Royal Majesty’s patently unconstitutional political pressure bearing down on the Con-Dem government, threatening dire consequences should anyone have the temerity to kick her son out of his arms-selling role - funded by the taxpayer to the tune of £500,000 a year. Fifth, lots of us - anarchists, republicans, group marriage advocates, Weekly Worker readers and others - will be having a right royal orgy at exactly the same time in the immediate vicinity of the wedding.
Taken together, hardly a good set of omens.
I did enjoy Bob Potter’s article on the Reichstag fire (‘Lies that refuse to be buried’, February 24). Certainly I had believed the version where Hitler had started it to whip up hatred of the Jews. The last time I heard it referred to was to support the conspiracy theory that George Bush was involved in the attack on the Twin Towers.
What is happening in Libya and the Middle East gets you thinking about human rights and how that would apply to a socialist society. What I’m grappling with at the moment is whether you would be allowed to speak out against the government in a more socialist society or would you be clamped down on, as happened in China, North Korea and Russia?
If there is a good form of socialism, I see it as the Labour Party - i.e. not extreme, but on the centre ground. While this may not be the equality of, say, communism, does it really matter, as regimes of that sort never promised what they delivered?
I welcome the contributions by Paul B Smith on the need for a Marxist culture free from the taint of Stalinism (February 24 and March 3). He takes up some aspects of the influence of Stalinism on theoretical discussion, and appeals for renewed study of Marx, particularly Capital, rejecting those who counterpose the young Marx to the old.
We should not view the experience of Stalinism as something that happened mainly in the 1930s and all but disappeared with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The 30s experience cannot be treated as only of historic interest. We cannot build anything new without absorbing the lessons - the struggle against bureaucracy, the pernicious influence of stages theory, the disastrous economic model. The betrayals continued well into the cold war period (eg, Indonesia in 1965, when a Maoist Stalinist party was massacred by a ‘progressive’ national bourgeoisie using Soviet-supplied weapons).
However, even as the Stalinists were murdering a generation of Marxists and strangling revolutions, they were sowing the seeds of a political method which influences the radical left today. Communist parties were subordinated to Soviet foreign policy interests, and this meant popular front movements with supposedly progressive elements in each country. The national reformist roads to socialism were born. This dominated workers’ movements such that even groups to the left of the communist parties adapted to it. Instead of a Marxist culture in the working class, we have a series of single-issue campaigns, based on alliances with whoever appears ‘progressive’ among the servants of the ruling class. Any perspective based on the independent interests of the working class is sacrificed in each country to relationships with, for example, union or labour figures.
Paul provides an interesting summary of some aspects of Critique’s contribution to Marxist theory. I was a student at Glasgow University’s Soviet Studies Institute in the mid-1970s. Two things stand out, apart from Critique’s contribution to understanding the Soviet Union. One is that we used to have Capital reading groups. I was in one that worked through the early chapters; another one inhabited by radical academics spent one evening on Capital and, having got that under their belts, moved swiftly on to Mandel’s Late capitalism. Fast readers or academic division of labour? Does anyone hold reading groups now? It would be a good thing, especially if linked to discussion of crises, and held on a cross-tendency basis. It seems every tendency has their pet theoretician.
I also recall some discussion around the idea that Critique should venture into political organisation - there were jokes about a ‘Critique Workers Party’. I think the idea met resistance from the radical milieu. I wrote a discussion paper on the subject, which probably sank without trace. The idea seemed to have resurfaced in the Campaign for a Marxist Party, again foundering on the fractious nature of the left.
This brings us back to the need for a Marxist culture in the working class. For the left in general, workers are there to be mobilised for this or that campaign (calls to action rather than propagating ideas), but, without at least a part of the working class adopting Marxist ideas as their own, whatever demands, slogans or programmes are issued will fail to resonate.
Sandy Johnston says that “A democratic republic is a socialist republic or it is a sham” (Letters, March 3). Bourgeois democracy is indeed a sham, that is true - but does that mean workers have no interest in struggling even for this ‘sham democracy’, as opposed to continuing to suffer under the heel of some form of oppressive regime? Unless you are some kind of third-period Stalinist, for whom everything other than communism is some form of ‘fascism’, then of course the answer to that question is ‘no’.
That is what Lenin set out in his Two tactics of social democracy in the democratic revolution. What Sandy might be implying is the idea that it is now impossible to achieve bourgeois democracy without it overflowing into a struggle for socialism, for the reasons that Trotsky set out in Permanent revolution. But that is clearly wrong.
Firstly, Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution is written in relation to particular conditions. Those conditions are either that the particular society is one where the state is in the hands of some pre-capitalist class, which wages a fight to the death to remain in power; or that some colonial power exercises state power and wages a similar struggle. This fact means that the bourgeoisie has to rely on the working class for the success of its revolution, which leads to the necessity of permanent revolution.
But rarely today do these conditions exist. Under pressure from US imperialism after World War II, and the drive of multinational companies to open up markets and available sources of exploitable labour-power, the old colonial empires were dismantled. So the latter case no longer exists. There are some parts of the world where economic development has not yet occurred sufficiently for old landlord classes to be undermined, but in most parts - certainly those where democratic revolutions are on the agenda - that is not the case. In many of these countries, national independence was won back in the 19th century and capitalist development took place. Egypt, in fact, established its own empire by taking over Sudan and other territories, and one reason it got into serious debt was due to its costly war to try to colonise Ethiopia.
These countries developed their own capitalist state, back in the 19th century, and many attempted to follow the model, established by Bismarck and Louis Napoleon, of a top-down industrialisation under the guidance of state capitalism. This in part reflected the weakness of the domestic bourgeoisie and was the main reason that these economies’ political regime developed as some form of Bonapartism or military junta.
In fact, what we are seeing today in the Middle East is an indication of the extent of recent economic development, which has increased the power and influence of the domestic bourgeoisie and the growth of a sizeable middle class that now seeks to carry through a political revolution to assert its own direct political rule. That being said, it is possible that permanent revolution might still apply.
What Egypt and certainly Libya are demonstrating is that a Bonapartist state apparatus is such a powerful social force that it can resemble a ruling class in its own right. Indeed it is that fact which leads those who operate using a subjectivist method analysis, such as the third campists, to mistake such a Bonapartist regime for some form of new class formation.
To the extent that such a state continues to protect its own particular interests over and above those of the actual ruling class, so the ruling class has to rely upon the working class to assist it in overthrowing the military-bureaucratic state apparatus. However, it is clear that national bourgeoisies can also rely on support from their larger, more powerful capitalist brethren in such struggles too.
The US has long since attempted to persuade various regimes to introduce land reforms, for example. It is likely that the influence of the US worked behind the scenes, through its connections with the Egyptian military, to get it to launch a coup to remove Mubarak, though we will have to see exactly how that plays out. Similarly, it looks likely that the US persuaded the state in Bahrain to remove its forces from the streets, in the hopes of bringing about some orderly transition. The simple evidence is Latin America and those Asian ‘tiger economies’ where bourgeois democracies have been established.
Such a transformation is in workers’ interests, as Lenin set out, but as Marxists our main concern has to be to emphasise the separate interests of workers. In that sense, Eddie Ford’s argument is correct: we should support the struggle for democracy, but we should do so by proletarian means, by promoting the self-activity and independent interests of workers across the Middle East and north Africa.