Charlie Walsh asks whether the ordinary workers in the armed forces, who are often economic conscripts from areas of the country where chronic unemployment has persisted for decades, are heroes (Letters, March 24).
Some no doubt are not. Some undoubtedly carry out atrocities. Such has always been the case in wars and other such conflicts. However, even such acts should be seen as being committed by people who are just as much victims as those against whom the atrocities are committed. They are the consequence of the people committing them having been brutalised and returned to a state of savagery by a capitalist system that degrades every aspect of what makes human beings human.
But are many of these workers sent off to fight the battles of capitalism heroes? In many cases, yes, they are. The fact that, like the vast majority of workers, they have not yet reached the same level of class-consciousness as comrade Walsh is not their fault, is it? It is the fault of Marxists like comrade Walsh who over the years have had such a sectarian attitude to the working class - essentially condemning workers precisely for not yet themselves being Marxists (‘ultra-leftism’, as Lenin called it) - that they have made themselves completely irrelevant to the working class and can play no part in its development and the raising of its class-consciousness.
I suppose we should look at what the attitude of the Marxist teachers on this subject was. Engels argued for universal military conscription as an essential adjunct to universal suffrage. He actually saw no problem in recognising the need for national defence. His position was pretty similar to that developed by Trotsky in his proletarian military policy, where he said that we do not want wars, but we will have them until we overthrow capitalism and, therefore, the duty of Marxists was to be the best soldiers, just as they aim to be the best workers in order to win the respect of their fellow workers, the better to mobilise them against capital.
Towards the end of his life, Engels argued that, if Germany were attacked by Russia or its allies, the German SPD should be in favour of waging a war against them with everything they had got because defeat would also mean the defeat of the SPD and the socialist project it represented. One of his disciples, Karl Liebknecht, of “the main enemy is at home” fame, could not attend the Zimmerwald conference because he had been drafted. The Bolsheviks themselves had many of their members fighting on the front lines in World War I and indeed it was the means by which they were able to win support within the armed forces for the revolution! Can you really imagine the Bolsheviks organising protests against the returning troops?
It is necessary to distinguish between capitalist states and the soldiers they send to do the fighting. Opposition to the former and a struggle based upon the idea of revolutionary defeatism is not at all the same as opposition to the latter, whom we seek by all means to win to our side.
Comrade Tony Clark appears to have been subject to some sort of Saul of Tarsus operation over the past 18 months and appears well on the road to complete non-Marxism and indeed non-communism (Letters, March 24). It was not that long ago Tony was with me defending the successes and achievements of the Soviet Union, as the world’s first major breakthrough out of capitalism and moving significantly on the road to communism.
If material abundance is not possible, communism simply cannot ever become a reality. Without abundance you cannot meet the needs of the population and you are left with relative scarcity - and the need for a ruling elite with state power to ration and control access.
I am totally unconvinced by Tony’s outlandish ‘peak oil’ theory, with which, I fear, he appears a little obsessed. Obviously, the oil will start to run out, but there are tremendous opportunities to develop alternative sources of energy, such as nuclear fusion and other renewables like solar and tidal. It is hardly a difficult or complex technical matter to convert over time our current dependence on oil into sources which are safer, cleaner and infinitely more sustainable. The real question is whether capitalism is remotely capable of addressing these big issues and coming up with the required big answers. I would suggest not in a million years, which is what brought many of us to Marxism and communism in the first place.
I am, however, completely confident that a world owned in common and democratically run by and in the interests of the majority working people will be very capable and motivated indeed to develop such required solutions. I have complete confidence in the inherent common sense, intelligence and creativity of human beings to develop cooperative and mutually beneficial solutions to the challenges facing us, but I would suggest these can only be properly realised within the democratic and mutual framework of communism. And we need the scientific method and analysis of Marxism to help us get there
No Galloway vote
For the last few years, the most well known figure of the official anti-war movement in the UK has been paid tens of thousands of pounds to push the reactionary interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran via Press TV. He is, of course, George Galloway.
Thanks to the opportunism of the Socialist Party Scotland (Committee for a Workers’ International), the Socialist Workers Party and what is left of Solidarity, he will head the Glasgow list under the humbly named ‘George Galloway (Respect) - Coalition Against Cuts’ in the upcoming Scottish parliament elections. He will supposedly be standing in opposition to the cuts by the Tory-led government and has a good chance of winning a seat. It may seem sensible to ignore Galloway’s reactionary views and his role in attacking and undermining the resistance to Iran’s theocracy and focus solely on the cuts agenda. This is wrong on two accounts.
Firstly, Galloway is not opposed to all cuts; in fact, he has steadfastly supported what is left of the Respect group on Tower Hamlets council, who have voted for cuts. Earlier this year they voted for a cut of £56 million from the council budget and Galloway never raised a criticism. Like Labour nationally, Respect talks against the cuts, but in the council chamber votes for them.
Secondly, we can’t ignore that the struggle of our class is international. Galloway has been part of the Iranian regime’s spearhead in propaganda, dismissing and attacking the uprisings and protests that have rocked Iran over the last few years. He even slandered a gay man hung for his sexuality, wrongly suggesting that he had been a child molester. Even now, as Galloway is lining his pockets, his paymasters have unleashed a massive austerity programme. The cuts in subsidies are forcing millions more families into poverty. Malnutrition is on the rise. Workers go unpaid for months, women are degraded second-class citizens, and opposition is dealt with through torture, rape, imprisonment and executions.
Working class partisans who are consistent internationalists must not support Galloway in May’s election unless he breaks all links with the Iranian regime and opposes austerity in deeds as well as words.
No Galloway vote
No Galloway vote
I read with interest and some confusion your perspectives document in the Weekly Worker (‘Organising for things to come’, March 31).
As an introduction to my comments, I must first confess that I was a member of the group led by Ted Grant - what you call a ‘confessional sect’ - in which I was a constant recipient and participant in the discussion of ‘perspectives’. He too would preface the outline of expectant events with a statement on the economic health or otherwise of capitalism at that time and a prognosis for the immediate or long-term future of British or world capitalism. He (it was normally Ted who performed this task) would, as your group does, follow this with a statement of economic and political perspectives.
While accepting Marxism provides a guide to trends and general developments in society, it is no crystal ball and I again confess that I lost interest in this form of fortune-telling during my time in Militant. In particular, when the perspectives attempted to be detailed and precise. My favourite relates to those for the recreated Spanish monarchy following Franco, which was portrayed as going to be short-lived. Alan Woods (Grant’s stable mate) would say with glee, echoing the Spanish Stalinists, that it would be ‘Juan the brief’. As we are all aware, Juan is still there over 40 years later. I will therefore hold off any desire I have to comment on the details of the CPGB’s perspectives, save to add that I think ‘perspectives’ is a disease caught by the Leninist left.
My remarks are restricted to the introduction to the document concerning the crisis of capitalism. Grant would at least give a tour de force when considering the economic state of capitalism; it reduces this analysis to a meagre collection of bald statements and brief descriptions. Your document states: “World politics will be coloured, driven and shaped by the ongoing crisis of capitalism, and for many years to come at that. This crisis is the deepest since the 1930s.”
No problem here, but what about an analysis of the crisis and causes?
“The focus has shifted from subprime mortgages and banks to sovereign debt. However, the crisis is conjoined with the continued decline of capitalism as a system ... The decline of the US as a hegemon and what appears as the absolute limits of capitalism as a system.”
Are these causes, symptoms or just comments? If these are causes of the crisis of capitalism, then it is simple: the banks are run by stupid, greedy wankers. Well, sack them and get a set of more competent wankers. Job done. Or if the cause is that governments lost the confidence of the world moneylenders by, possibly, overborrowing, then it’s the same answer: you stop the borrowing or sack the governments. But the first part means cutting state spending - wage and welfare cuts or increase taxes. If it’s the second, replace the government. This begs the question - with whom and to do what? It is completely reformist in politics and sub-Keynesian in economics.
This economic introduction to your perspectives document continues with an outline of the decline of the US economic domination of the global economy and the inability of it being replaced by any other national or group of combined economies. Is this decline of the US economic dominance permanent? Is it really impossible for others to replace the US as the dominant economy? Some would have said that of Britain in the 1860s. Marxism is a tool, not a set of tarot cards
Like the third period Stalinist of yesteryear, you seem to hold the absurd idea that there is some final crisis of capitalism. This denies the ability of the ruling class to find a way out, reducing them to helpless fools with only a programme of chauvinism and xenophobia. (You then proceed on the flimsiest of evidence to associate other left groups with these degenerate ideas of the ruling class.)
A clear statement about what causes and constitutes a crisis of capitalism is required, as without it a reformist position is inevitable. That is not say that we should adopt a maximalist approach. There is a need for such demands as ‘work or full pay’, ‘stop the cuts’, ‘free education with full maintenance’, and so on. If some of these demands are achieved within capitalism, thereby reducing the misery of the class, all good and well. Demands of this nature are not the end in themselves; they need to be part of the programme leading the struggle to end capitalism, not to reform it.
My years with Ted Grant taught me a number of things, good and bad, and some have a Marxist clarity about them. Firstly, crisis is endemic to capitalism. That crisis consists of cycles of booms and slumps. In times of boom, the working class is able to force concessions out of the boss class. In times of crisis, the bosses take them back - pay cuts, welfare cuts and at the most extreme case the wasting of the class and materials through wars.
Secondly, there is no final economic crisis of capitalism - the ruling class will always find a way out. The cost of the recovery will be measured in the level of misery suffered by ordinary people through the reduction of their living standards, curtailment of democracy and attacks on the organisations of the class. The answer to the crisis for the bosses is to reduce the share of wealth produced in society going to the working class, The final solution to the crisis for working people is to end capitalism and this will be achieved when the working class, as a majority of society, takes power to itself.
I do not pretend to have all the answers. I am seeking a way forward. But I do hold to the view that capitalism, with or without crisis, is incapable of providing a society where everybody reaches their potential. In the struggle to bring an end to capitalism, I look towards a working class with the spontaneity outlined by Luxemburg, the ability to create, utilising the transitional approach of Trotsky and a democratic workers’ party based on the ideas of teachers like Marx and Engels.
The perspectives document says: “In 2011 we shall publish second, expanded editions of Fantastic reality and Revolutionary strategy.”
What exactly is there to add to Revolutionary strategy besides connecting the ultra-left syndicalists with fascists and also more differentiation of the Second International tendencies (Luxemburg and co vs Sorel and co; Ebert and co vs Bernstein and co)? For example, my requests for a follow-up on relating the centre strategy to federal vs provincial and local politics, for highlighting the New Democratic Party of Canada as a problematic ‘no government experience’ case, etc would be better off as part of a second book?
Fight goes on
We’ve been waiting to see if the building union, Ucatt, would salvage even one victory over the Consulting Association Construction Database blacklist of building workers like Brian Higgins via the tribunal system. After all this surely shouldn’t have been too difficult with crystal-clear evidence of blacklisting.
Of course, we realise tribunals are always weighted very heavily in favour of employers and workers lose them much more often than not. But even with this in mind it’s nothing short of astonishing and sickening that Ucatt and their lawyers did not win a single case. The CACD registered victory after victory against members. Many were told they were clear out of time. The tribunal judge said they hadn’t submitted their papers for claims soon enough. Others were told that their claims related to events which happened before an industrial law came into force in the early 1990s.
What happened to Brian Higgins is a prime example of just how badly Ucatt members were let down. A union lawyer told him that he had to attend a tribunal review hearing in Manchester on October 9 last year. He lives in Northampton and there are venues much nearer. A few days before that date he received a letter and then a phone call from the lawyer telling him the union was withdrawing funding for his case. They were not prepared to pay the costs of the review hearing, as it was very likely to go against the union. Faced with this, Brian felt he had no option but to withdraw his claim.
As he had not failed in a UK court, he could not take the case to the European Court of Human Rights. Talk about a double blow! He said he felt brutally betrayed by his union and lawyers. He felt that surely a union like Ucatt, which boasted of being the only and biggest specialist union for building workers, would have had a contingency fund to deal with costs, particularly in the more severe cases.
Some other members had their funding withdrawn, and others were dealt with just as shabbily. This shows how the general secretary’s very public protests were total bullshit and only for the media. It also shows the complete lack of any sort of commitment to fight for blacklisted members. They were always much more interested in cutting costs and preventing names of union officials being exposed than fighting for blacklisted members.
We are absolutely positive that the main reason for Brian’s case being withdrawn is that if his case had gone to a hearing he would have asked for the many names, which were blacked out on his redacted file, to be made known. This would have led to the names of quite a few Ucatt officials who supplied information on Brian to the CACD and building employers being revealed. There’s no way the EC would want these names to come to light. Think of the embarrassment, the shame. So it’s much easier to withdraw funding to ensure no revelations.
Some of those members, so badly let down by the union, have been taken on by a new legal firm with the help of the Blacklist support Group. This firm does not work under the orders of any union, so there’s a real chance of some kind of justice. They are in the process of preparing a class/group action, mainly under the Data Protection Act, against some employers named in the CACD.
The best opportunity ever presented to the trade unions, with the discovery and exposition of the CACD, has been squandered. These unions are more interested in saving money and protecting the names of those officials grassing up union members to the employers. And let’s not forget they also want, at all costs, to preserve the sweetheart relationships they have with those same employers that provide full-time union officials with cushy and privileged lifestyles.
Fight goes on
Fight goes on
How is the Libyan uprising “reactionary” (‘No defence of Benghazi’, March 31)? Against what is it reacting? It started as mass protests, like in Tunisia and Egypt. When Gaddafi fired on the people, the army started to defect (just like in Yemen recently), turning it into an uprising. I don’t see this as reactionary, even if the leadership is corrupt.
Gerry Downing writes of “Libya’s history of struggle against colonialism and imperialism”, but no-one has yet made imperialism in this Libyan intervention explicit.
Regarding Gaddafi, he writes that: “He redistributed wealth to Libyans, so that it is still the most egalitarian country in Africa, with the highest GDP per capita.” He distributed so much wealth to Libyans, his family’s wealth is something like $40 billion (out of a GDP of $76-96 million). Please.
Is it me or does the organisation of the tribes, as detailed in Downing’s article, sound anti-democratic? Not only are they legitimising the anti-democratic Gaddafi regime (for what interests I can only guess), but they seem to be controlling their members’ opinions towards the regime.
Downing describes the rebel leaders as “an alliance of former ministers in Gaddafi’s regime; CIA-sponsored and -funded, pro-imperialist opportunists; monarchists; and al-Qa’eda Islamists” - which “could easily have been discovered by every leftist by simple Googling”. But has their government been established yet? What if they’re successful and a more democratic regime is installed? I don’t think speculation like this is convincing.
His claim that “Stories of Gaddafi’s black mercenaries hid the appalling slaughter of black workers carried out by our rebels” makes it sound as if the rebels were happy to slaughter sub-Saharan Africans merely because of their race, not because the somewhat understandable perception of theirs that sub-Saharan Africans were mercenaries used by the regime. From TV reports I’ve watched, there have been black people working with the rebels, chatting to them, and so on. How can we trust Somaliland Press cited by Downing so unwaveringly? How do they know that more than 100 sub-Saharan Africans have been killed? I find it odd how the author denounces “capitalist mass media” and then cites The Observer as a credible source. Regarding the rebel side being dominated by Islamists, once again I say, wait and see if the fears about the rebel government are proven true.
Downing says further that: “Any principled revolutionist would have taken a united front stance with Gaddafi, not only against the imperialist open assault, but also against imperialism’s internal agents.” But where is imperialism trying to control Libya? And how can one support Gaddafi, even if against imperialism? That’s contradictory: if one dislikes imperialism because it’s anti-democratic, surely one must also be against Gaddafi’s anti-democratic regime rather than taking a “united front stance” with him.
The article contrasts “the humanitarian claptrap about Gaddafi shooting his own people” with the way in which Gaddafi supporters’ deaths are treated as “simply collateral damage”. No-one is calling for Gaddafi’s supporters to be killed. The air strikes are aimed at military targets. Yes, there is collateral damage, but maybe that’s from Gaddafi placing civilians near areas he expects the coalition to bomb? At any rate, reports I’ve read see the civilian casualties of the coalition air strikes much less than Gaddafi’s attacks against civilians.
I don’t get how one can really blame rebels for using propaganda. And why would the mass media want Gaddafi’s regime gone so much (by making up ‘propaganda’ detailing his atrocities, way before the coalition air strikes even began)? Surely capitalist mass media, subservient to business interests, wants a strong man (Gaddafi) to guarantee cheap oil? I reiterate what I’ve said before: we should analyse the situation in Libya for what it is instead of letting anti-imperialist principles make us see things irrationally.
Downing writes: “Of significance also is the religion of the eastern region. It is dominated by the Senussi, a Muslim political-religious order. King Idris was the grandson of the founder of this Senussi Muslim sufi order, to which Omar Mukhtar also belonged.” While this sounds convincing in justifying how the east fell from government control so quickly, one cannot ignore the movement in the west of the country. At least half of the towns fell under rebel control. There were protests in the suburbs of Tripoli. And neither the pro-Gaddafi forces nor his supposed support from all the tribes have done anything to take back Misrata, the third biggest city, from rebel control (it’s been weeks now).
Finally, people do not seem to be addressing the democratic element of the air strikes: the rebels asked for them.
If Gerry Downing is going to make dramatic claims such as the killing of black Africans by the rebels, he should provide specific sources. An interesting piece is rendered useless due to the vague and anecdotal nature of the sources (where any attempt to provide same is given).
My letter of March 24 addressed a crucial question: what attitude should Marxists have towards a failing revolt against dictatorship which appeals for help from abroad? Reviewing the pieces in this paper and on the web, the clamour has been to let it fail, even to deem it premature.
Yet again some Marxists have been found wanting and politically irrelevant, telling those in Benghazi and Tobruk that they should be left to the mercy of a war-waging dictator, and telling those in imperialist countries that their governments should not help a dictatorship end (Latin America? Indonesia?).
These Marxists have shown that they are content to let people die unnecessarily. Only they know their motives. But their refusal to speak about what their non-interventionist stance means for those who rebelled shows their lack of concern for their fate and the worth of their struggle. From the comfort of the imperialist country they live in, the bourgeois freedoms they enjoy, they have proven content to oppose the only hope the rebels had to establish representative government.
If the de facto partition of Libya persists, with representative government in the part forming a military alliance with some imperialist powers, then that is a victory, not just for those Libyans, but for all those who believe in human flourishing, especially those who take the standpoint of socialised humanity, recognising it as sensuous living. In contrast, the politics of the non-interventionist Marxists is one of alienation.
The following resolution was passed last week by the Welsh Labour Grassroots steering committee. It has been distributed widely within the workers’ movement:
“Welsh Labour Grassroots opposes military intervention in Libya and we disagree with the support given to it by the Labour front bench. Whilst appreciating that many comrades felt genuinely moved by the possibility of a humanitarian disaster, we believe it has become clearer day by day that western military intervention in Libya was a serious mistake and we believe that the Parliamentary Labour Party and party leadership should now dissociate itself from the ongoing activities of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.
“Although we strongly support the progressive Arab struggles, including the struggle of the Palestinian people, we believe that intervention is not a sign of the west’s concern for human rights in the Middle East or north Africa; indeed, as intervention was getting underway in Libya, the west’s key ally and surrogate, Saudi Arabia, was being invited into Bahrain to help the regime there clamp down on pro-democracy protestors.
“The west was caught off guard by the popular uprisings in north Africa - until recently Britain was selling arms to Libya - and intervention in Libya is its attempt to regain influence and safeguard its access to oil.
“The government claims to be defending Libyan civilians. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were also carried out in the name of human rights and democracy, but have costs the lives of thousands of civilians. Western intervention will not help the people of Libya. The object is to try to manipulate and control the anti-Gaddafi forces, which would result in the Libyan and other Arab democratic revolutions being discredited and channelled in a way that serves western interests.
“It is obscene that, when public services are being destroyed and public sector workers are facing the sack, the Con-Dem coalition can find the money for yet another Middle Eastern military adventure.
“We note the increasingly robust view of a growing number of UN security council members - including at least one permanent member - that, whatever the original intentions behind resolution 1973, the French, British and US governments have produced such tortuous misinterpretations of its mandate that, as with Iraq, the credibility of the security council has been seriously undermined.
“In any event, the lack of clearly defined objectives, leadership, rules of engagement and an exit strategy put at risk the lives not only of Libyan civilians, but also those of service men and women.”