Not just Arabs
Contrary to the claims of Weekly Worker writers, such as Eddie Ford (‘Triumvirate commits to regime change’, April 21), the present upsurge of mass struggle in the Middle East is not about the fight for the unity of the Arab people (where is this demand being raised other than by writers in the Weekly Worker and by Stalinist fellow travellers like George Galloway?) but the struggle of the masses for democratic rights and against the effect of the world crisis of capitalism.
The trigger for the mass explosion has been the increase in the cost of living for the masses (soaring cost of food and fuel on the world market, combined with cuts in government subsides) and with the obvious fact that the old regimes have no positive answers to the social problems confronting the mass of the population.
Is not the mass struggle in Iran against the repressive regime and falling living standards intimately linked to the struggle in Egypt and Syria? There is, in fact, on the ground no struggle for ‘Arab unity’, but rather a struggle of the working class, youth and the poor for a better life, free from the kleptocratic regimes that dominate the region and also dominate much of what used to be called the third world. It should also be remembered that the Middle East is home to a large population of migrant workers who come from all over the globe and who must be integrated into any struggle for workers’ power. And, of course, there are the large non-Arab minorities that live throughout the area and who have a history of oppression by the Arab ruling classes. In this situation for communists to advance the perspective of fighting for Arab national unity or issue calls for pan-Arab unity cuts against the struggle to establish working class unity and working class political independence from capital and plays into the hands of our enemy by promoting nationalism as the way forward.
Instead of this reheated nationalist rubbish about the fight for Arab national unity, communists should be calling for the unity of all workers of all nationalities in the region and beyond in the struggle for workers’ power and socialism.
Not just Arabs
Not just Arabs
Andrew Northall (Letters, April 21) was right to criticise me for saying that peak oil means the end of capitalism. What I really meant was that peak oil, a period of stagnating global oil production, will lead to the collapse of capitalism.
This collapse started in 2008, when oil prices surged to $147 per barrel. The coming period of declining oil production will paralyse the world economy, or, as Vernon Coleman writes in Oil apocalypse, “A permanent rise in oil prices will destroy our economy permanently.” Coleman is no socialist or anti-capitalist. Yet the above is a simple fact ignored by Marxists.
The end of capitalism will follow on from the collapse of the system, assuming the left is able to unite on a new basis rather than live in the past. This need for unity may be an uphill struggle with people who base themselves on a 19th century economic theory which did not need to understand the role of non-renewable energy in making industrial civilisation possible. In other words, Marxism based its economic analysis on labour-power and machinery, but did not concern itself with non-renewable sources of energy, which increasingly replaced labour-power.
Andrew is an orthodox, traditional Marxist, who imagines that Marxism explains how history works in the past, present and the future. I, on the other hand, reject Marx’s materialist interpretation of history, which I adhered to in the past with some doubts. This theory argues that the production relations of slave, feudal, capitalist and socialist society are determined by the state of development of productive forces. It’s a clever argument, but this doesn’t make it true.
I believe that in all class societies, production relations between people are determined by the armed power of the ruling class backed up by ideology and tradition. If Marxism was right and production relations are determined by the productive forces, what use would the ruling class have of armed forces or the state for internal need? Marxism implies that class struggle against exploitation would be wrong or unscientific if directed against exploitative relations of production which had not outlived their usefulness.
I would agree with Mike Macnair that it would be possible to cast a critical vote for Galloway in Glasgow at the Scottish election if he was the only credible candidate standing to the left of the major parties (‘Electoral principles and our tactics’, April 14).
However, he isn’t. We have the Scottish Socialist Party list, with Frances Curran, a former MSP, at the top, standing on a platform which includes a workers’ MSP on a worker’s wage and a woman’s right to choose - neither of which Galloway supports.
I agree with Terry Liddle that republicanism has not been respectable - that is why it has never made inroads into the royal cabal and its hordes of oath-taking protectors in parliament (Letters, April 21).
Republic is at least doing something different and worthwhile in presenting the respectable face of republicanism to the people, nearly all of whom continue to be enthralled by the theatrical pageantry of monarchy, and trying to get through to them with reasoned argument.
More power to their elbow - nothing else has worked thus far.
The capitalists of Ukraine continue to attack the rights of the working class and their trade unions. The independent union of the miners of Krivbass, the NPGK, operating in the Dnepropetrovsk region, mobilised nearly 500 to actively defend the interests of the workers. NPGK leader Nikita Stotsky is standing firm, despite having already faced two dozen trials for refusing to accept the denial of legal rights to his union.
Some of the mining bosses are or recently were council members belonging to the rightwing party, Our Ukraine, headed by former president Viktor Yushchenko. Hundreds of workers are fighting to restore the rights of their militant trade unions, but the company management, local government and the corrupt courts are all refusing to back down. Our response must be working class solidarity.
Demand that all the union’s legitimate rights be restored, that the state stop interfering in union activities, that the union’s property be returned. Hands off Nikita Stotsky!
James Turley in his reply (Letters, April 21) to my letter the previous week gets into a further muddle. He says he’s not familiar enough with Trotsky’s writings to dispute whether Trotsky argues that a united front is only between two working class organisations. Well, it’s set out in the ‘Theses on the united front’ agreed by the Comintern (see www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1924/ffyci-2/08.htm).
James says that Trotsky uses the term in relation to defence of the USSR, seemingly forgetting that the USSR was the biggest workers’ organisation of them all! But James does not seem to grasp still that, even in relation to defence of the USSR, Trotsky makes a clear distinction between defence of the state, as opposed to defence of the regime - he was for total opposition to the regime of Stalin. The whole thrust of the united front - ‘March separately, strike together’ - sums up this approach of maintaining strict organisational and political independence, including conducting the most militant propaganda against the reformist/Stalinist organisations, whilst acting together against a common enemy.
James repeats what I said on this: “... in the face of an imperialist attack on [Libya], communists still have to support the state, whilst continuing to mobilise the workers to oppose both imperialism and the Gaddafi regime.” But then strangely he says: “So communists unite with the regime against the common enemy of imperialism, without surrendering their independence and freedom to criticise and so forth - in other words, the dictionary definition of the united front.”
He does not seem able to distinguish between supporting ‘the state’ and supporting ‘the regime’. It is the same problem that the third campists had and that the Stalinists had. On the one hand, the third campists argued that supporting the state in the USSR meant supporting the regime of Stalin. On the other hand, the Stalinists argued that attacking the regime of Stalin was the same as attacking the USSR as a state. But the state and the regime are clearly not the same thing. Indeed, it is clearly impossible to be both ‘opposed’ to the regime and ‘united’ with it. The whole point is that communists in such a situation seek out the real revolutionary forces and unite with them.
James is, of course, correct to point out that in many instances the nature of a regime is such that any practical alliance is impossible, even at the level of simple negotiations to coordinate military activity. But that does not stop the communists in such a situation from organising their forces to defend the state against imperialist attack. Indeed they would use the refusal of the regime or other reactionary forces to engage in even such basic measures as part of the propaganda against them! In Libya today that would mean assisting the development of independent workers’ organisations, militia and so on. I suspect that such organisations would be as much at risk from the reactionaries within the ranks of the rebels as they would from Gaddafi’s forces, and so the point made by James in that regard rebounds on his own argument in relation to supporting the rebels.
But James also seems to confuse other terms and misunderstand my objection to his use of them. He refers to Lenin’s quote about ‘pure’ revolutions, but my whole point is that it is not clear to me that what we have in Libya is a revolution. That is why I made the point about it being a civil war - whilst many real social revolts end in civil war, not every civil war is the product of social revolt. The civil war in Rwanda was not. In such a situation, do communists choose a side or do they look to the interests of the working class across the divide? It is clear that communists defend the rights of a minority in such a situation, but that is not the same thing as supporting the victory of one side/community/tribe/religious group over another.
Moreover, if James really wants to ensure that the Libyan masses act to prevent something arising that is worse than Gaddafi, I would suggest that he begins now by not inviting those masses to join a popular front with the rebels and instead recommends that Libyan workers organise to defend their own interests both now and in the future and, by so doing, facilitate their own development and potential for winning leadership of the movement against both imperialism and Gaddafi.
The fact that the Arab revolution remains an unresolved issue is not an objective basis for lumping all of the disputes together. There are many ‘unresolved issues’ that likewise affect a number of countries, but that does not mean that this provides an objective basis for uniting a struggle in one of these countries with a struggle in another, other than at the highest level of abstraction. Obviously, a potential for linking these struggles together exists and, as part of building support for workers in Libya, we should look initially to support being provided from workers in Egypt, Syria, Tunisia and Algeria as the nearest neighbours.
But the economic and material bases in these various Arab states are very different and the nature of the revolts in each is also different. James’s argument is really like saying that the socialist revolution is an ‘unresolved issue’ across western Europe. So if a strike occurs in France and one in Britain, we have to see it as an unfolding of this long-awaited revolution and should raise the European socialist revolution as our practical response rather than concentrating on the practical actions required to win the two disputes, whilst attempting to build whatever international links we can in the process.
James says: “Concretely, if workers in Tripoli ‘oppose Gaddafi, but even more fear the rebels’, that does not change our strategic task - for a sustainable democratic outcome, Gaddafi has to go!” I have never argued that Gaddafi does not have to go. And the fact that there is a messy civil war going on does not prevent me from advocating a programmatic solution to that problem. Unlike James, that does not revolve around throwing in my lot with one or another reactionary grouping within that civil war, but rather around supporting the Libyan workers and attempting to build an independent working class solution to both.
James also seems under some misapprehension in relation to Egypt and Tunisia. If the regime in Egypt falls, then it will be replaced by a bourgeois democratic regime under the control of the Egyptian bourgeoisie and with the support of the international bourgeoisie, particularly from the EU. But, the moment the workers in particular begin to push their own demands and the bourgeoisie takes fright, it will realign with the military and introduce a new crackdown with the blessing of imperialism.
I consider the chances of a socialist revolution, which would be the only solution under those conditions, unlikely. In either case, it will be the bourgeoisie and imperialism that will be in a dominant position in Egypt, not the working class, so the chances of that coming to the rescue of the Libyan masses is not great. That is another reason we should concentrate on building up the independent forces of the working class in Egypt and across the Middle East and north Africa.