19th century

I misunderstand Marx, argues Chris Gray (Letters, May 5). However, comrade Gray doesn’t explain, even briefly, what this misunderstanding consists of.

Is Marx not associated with the view that production relations are determined by productive forces? Is this not the essence of the theory of historical materialism? Marx argues in Capital volume one that men enter into production relations independently of their will and these relations correspond to the degree of development of the productive forces. As I argued before, I believe this view is false, because exploitative production relations are imposed by one class on another using force, and this is backed up by ideology. For Marxism, exploitation was a necessary stage in the development of humanity. I do not think so and the existence of primitive communism refutes the Marxist thesis.

Chris wants to hear any counterevidence to the peak oil thesis. There is counterevidence aplenty in the writings of various free-market economists, who believe that the market will solve the problem. This literature is mostly delusional and hides the fact that the immediate problem is not the end of oil as such, but a decline in supply and the end of cheap oil.

The positive thing about Chris’s letter is that, unlike most people on the left, he recognises the need for an urgent, informed debate on the issue. Most communists base themselves on Marxism, a 19th century doctrine which did not realise that the foundation of society is energy. That leads to Marxists underestimating the coming energy crisis.

19th century
19th century

Stolen land

On Nakba Day, May 15, I participated in a demonstration in the north of Israel, 14 kilometres from the Lebanese border. We were a group of about 400 who tried to reach the border with Lebanon, but we were forced to stop by the police. We were allowed to demonstrate for one hour, but then the police tear-gassed us. Around 10 of us suffered very badly following this attack and 22 were arrested. However, compared to other Palestinians and the few Jews who participated in the demonstrations in the Golan Heights, Ras Maroun in Lebanon and Gaza, the price we paid for the right to demonstrate for the Palestinian refugees to return was negligible.

Israel is doing everything to erase the memory of the Nakba. It has removed mention of the fact from its rewritten official history books and a bill proposed by the rightwing Yisrael Beiteinu party stipulates fines for local authorities and other state-funded bodies for simply holding events marking the Palestinian Nakba Day.

Another bill, which succeeded by a majority of 35 to 20, formalises the establishment of admission committees to review the position of potential residents of Negev and Galilee communities that have fewer than 400 families. After its passing there were skirmishes in the knesset, as Ahmed Tibi, member of the knesset for the United Arab List-Ta’al, was not content to compare the bill to South African apartheid legislation, but likened its context to the Wannsee conference, where the Nazis decided on the ‘final solution’ in 1942.

However, following the May 15 demonstrations and the cold-blood murder of Palestinian protestors, the name ‘Nakba’ is becoming familiar for many people around the world.

If anyone had any doubt as to the class nature of the Egyptian army, the events in Tahrir Square on Nakba Day showed the real face of the generals. At least 120 people were injured, when security forces fired tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets at pro-Palestinian protestors who were trying to storm the Israeli embassy. At least 20 people were arrested. Protesters responded by burning tyres and throwing stones.

This incident followed the visit to Egypt by Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli defence ministry official - the first trip by a top Israeli official since the revolution that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak in February. Clearly, just as in Mubarak’s days, the Egyptian army is allying itself with Israel and oppressing the Palestinians. This army has to go, to be replaced by a workers’ army. For this it is necessary to split it along class lines. The new trade union federation and workers’ party must organise workers’ militias to defend, among others, the Palestinians and the Copts.

The incident also shed more light on the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah - struck under the auspices of the Egyptian generals - which aims at putting together an interim Palestinian government. While the reformists present this agreement as a step forward in the struggle against Israel, it is actually a step in the direction of the Oslo agreement.

The Nakba Day events have shown anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear that a key question of the so-called Israeli-Arab conflict is the Palestinian right of return. Netanyahu said that the Nakba Day protests were not about the 1967 borders, but rather about “undermining the very existence of Israel”. He is right on that. The demonstrations were not for a mini-Palestinian state, with Israel still controlling 80% of Palestine. They were for the right of the refugees to return to their land. But if that were allowed, the majority of people living in this country would be Palestinians. For this reason Israel is prepared to kill thousands and thousands of Palestinians in an attempt to prevent such an outcome and, as long as Israel exists, the Palestinian refugees will not be able to return.

Stolen land
Stolen land

PCS conference

Despite Dave Vincent’s effort in the Weekly Worker to lobby against the Public and Commercial Services union balloting for strike action on June 30 alongside other unions, only two out of over 900 delegates voted against the leadership’s plans (‘Don’t rush - make sure we can win’, May 12). Funnily enough, even comrade Vincent voted for the motion in the end - despite speaking against it and calling for more patience. Comrade Vincent had been persuaded by conference.

While voting for the motion, I - like many other PCS activists - would criticise the June 30 action from a very different angle: if we are serious about defeating the vicious plans of this Con-Dem government, we need to do much more than call one-day strikes. These are good enough as a ‘vote of protest’, but not much more than that. The government can easily ride out one-day strikes (even if another larger one follows, as planned, in October).

True, longer strikes might currently see a lower turnout. This has partly to do with the general low confidence and activity of the working class, but also a lack of confidence in the PCS leadership, which for the last 10 years has been run like a fiefdom by the Socialist Party.

Most members, whilst loyal to their union, don’t actually believe that the leadership have a strategy to defeat the attacks (which will lead to hundreds of thousands of jobs being lost in the public sector, working conditions further undermined and pension provisions cut). As comrade Vincent reports, the turnout for the NEC elections was just over 10% - though many more members will turn out for strike action. The leadership seems almost paralysed by this low turnout . Because they fear they can’t convince members of more militant action, they don’t even try. Plus, over the 10 years they have been running the union, they have failed to build up a decent strike fund that could actually finance more long-term action.

In my opinion we need to become much more ambitious in this period. Instead of simply mobilising the whole PCS membership for one-day strikes every few months, it would be much better to organise more targeted and militant strike action alongside it.

For example, could you imagine the damage caused if workers in customs and excise went on indefinite strike? Or if tax collectors refused to work, starving the government of vital income? This would hit them where it hurts. Despite general secretary Mark Serwotka recently saying that “no tactics are off the agenda”, this kind of action is unlikely to be called by the SP-dominated NEC.

Unfortunately, the emergency motion on Iran was not heard. The standing orders committee did not regard it as worthy of a conference motion and therefore ‘D-marked’ it as something that could be dealt with by correspondence. As a delegate I did get the opportunity to speak for the motion by challenging the decision by way of a reference back. But this was only supported by about 80 delegates and so the motion - which opposed all imperialist military action and sanctions, and called for support for the new campaign, ‘Freedom for Jafar Panahi and all political prisoners’ - did not get onto the main agenda.

PCS conference
PCS conference

Fish nor fowl

I wish to respond to the characterisation of Platypus, politically, as having affinities with the anti-‘anti-imperialist’ left, such as the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty et al. (‘Theoretical dead end’, May 19). However we have been influenced theoretically by aspects of Moishe Postone’s work on Marx’s critique of capital, we are not in political agreement.

Platypus, which has been motivated by the diagnosis that the ‘left is dead’, originated in the era of the anti-war movement of the Bush II years, and our project of “hosting the critical conversation on the left”, that we didn’t think would otherwise take place, was necessitated by the predictable failure of the anti-war movement, of which we thought its supposed ‘anti-imperialism’ was the Achilles’ heel. We wanted a more effective anti-war and anti-imperialist politics.

In considering the problems of the ‘left’ today, we discern that they are two-sided, embodied by not only the ‘anti-imperialist’ left of the US International Socialist Organization et al, but also by the ‘anti-fascist’ left of Christopher Hitchens, Kanan Makiya et al. We consider not only Tariq Ali, but also Hitchens, to be important exemplars of today’s ‘dead left’. We consider the ISO-US et al to be sham anti-imperialist, or pseudo-left, just as we would consider Hitchens’s claims to be anti-fascist in supporting US imperialism to be pseudo-left (pseudo-liberal).

We take seriously Fred Halliday’s characterisation, reported in his interview with Danny Postel (‘Who is responsible?’ in Salmagundi No150-51, 2006, pp 221-240) of his political departure from New Left Review and Tariq Ali, as follows: “About 20 years ago I said to Tariq that god, allah, called the two of us to his presence and said to us, ‘One of you is to go to the left, and one of you is to go to the right.’ The problem is, He didn’t tell us which was which, and maybe he didn’t know himself. And Tariq laughed. He understood exactly what I was saying, and he didn’t dispute it.”

We interpret this to mean that both Halliday and Ali turned to the right, or that both are disintegrated (or decomposed) remnants of the death of the left and therefore worth critical consideration. And not only Halliday, but also the aforementioned Hitchens and Makiya, could legitimately claim that they didn’t abandon the left so much as the left abandoned them.

The ideal conversation we in Platypus would like to have hosted, when we first launched our project, would have been a debate on the ‘war on terror’ between Tariq Ali, Alex Callinicos, Halliday, Hitchens and Makiya (with perhaps Slavoj Žižek thrown in for fun). In such a debate, we don’t think anyone would have represented the left that the world needs today - hence the need for such a conversation. For we think that they are all wrong and, hence, all ‘right’. As a project, Platypus is about exposing and putting forward a need: the present absence of a true left. We don’t have answers, only questions.

On the issue of ‘imperialism’, I dispute the supposed distinction of a voluntaristic (or opportunist) versus structural-historical approach to the problem of, eg, Luxemburg versus Bukharin. I think that Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky found that the ‘imperialist’ phase of ‘monopoly capital’ and the changing ‘organic composition of capital’ (at a global scale) by the turn of the 20th century had been the product of the successes of the workers’ movement in the core capitalist countries. They found this success to have advanced the crisis of capital. In other words, the social democratic workers’ movement had itself brought about the crisis of capital, or ‘imperialism’ as capitalism’s ‘highest’ or last stage (Lenin): that is, the eve of revolution. Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky thought that the socialist workers’ movement was part of and not extrinsic to the history of capital. This meant, for Luxemburg, that the workers were responsible for the world war and thus historically obligated to bring about socialism and avert barbarism. This was not merely a moral injunction.

Moreover, what the Second International radicals meant by ‘imperialism’ was inter-imperialism, not core-periphery relations. The emphasis on the latter was the hallmark of the post-World War II new left and its derangement on the problem of global capital in history.

So it is not, for us, a matter of waiting for the world to become entirely liberalised or uniformly bourgeois in social relations before the struggle for socialism can commence (which would indeed be like Beckett’s Waiting for Godot or Endgame), but rather recognition that the problem of ‘imperialism’ has been a symptom of capital’s historical over-ripeness for revolution, at least since 1914-19, if not significantly long before.

When Platypus says that the ‘left is dead’, what we mean is that the rottenness of the world today is the historical legacy and responsibility of the left (and the failure of Marxism). As a project, we are neither ‘academic’ nor ‘activist’ (neither fish nor fowl), but rather about provoking recognition (blocked by both academicism and activism) of this long overdue and festering task, which we think is found in historical Marxism, but buried under many layers of regressive obfuscation from which it needs to be disinterred.

We don’t think that this task can be formulated straightforwardly politically, programmatically, but only indirectly, through pointed and acutely symptomatic conversation that can have a transformative effect ideologically. This will not involve Platypus developing some better theory ahead of better practice, but rather our doing something that will need to be accompanied, in a ‘division of labour’, by a reinvigorated workers’ movement. We think the ideological work we are doing in hosting and pointedly curating the conversation can have an effect, however indirectly, on freeing up and potentially revalorising the idea of socialism and a Marxist approach that we think would be necessary - if for now at some distance from immediately practical questions - for such a workers’ movement.

Fish nor fowl
Fish nor fowl

Lost grip

In place of a socialist understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Tony Greenstein once again offers his Arabesque/Islamist narrative in accord with his published ambition to see the “destruction of the state of Israel” (‘Re-enacting Nakba crimes’, May 19).

In order to delegitimise and demonise Israel, the only democratic state in the Middle East, and support the idea of a unitary Palestinian state, Mr Greenstein uses analogous reasoning and decontextualises history, whilst at the same time arguing as if the Palestinians are the victims and the Jews the persecutors. Worse and morally repugnant are the simplistic parallels between Nazi-fascism and the Israeli state - false and morally suspect. Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and minister Ehard Barak, we are told, “have been responsible for the murder of thousands of Palestinians”, in a comparison with Libya’s Gaddafi who, if caught, will be held to account for the use of the military against his own countrymen during the recent revolt for democratic rights. But Israel on May 15 was defending itself against ‘a protest of rage’, another violent ‘intifada’, which was designed to incite an attack against Israel. Thus the analogy is clearly false: Israeli Arabs have human rights and the vote and are not comparable with those Arabs in revolt against Arab dictatorships.

In this respect, Netanyahu and Barak are not ‘murderers’, but defending the state of Israel; just as any democratic state is entitled to defend itself, (and the Israel Defence Forces have as good a record as any progressive nation for their policy of trying to avoid non-combatant fatalities). Greenstein’s repeated attempts to make Israel equivalent to Arab dictatorships are simply false, arriving at the notion that the Arab regimes and even Iran “are Israel’s reliable collaborators and allies” - stretching the imagination, to say the least. Moreover, we are led to believe that the BBC is a Zionist organisation (world conspiracy of Jews?) whose director is plotting against the Palestinians.

Greenstein is losing his grip. The fact that many trade unions and student unions have started boycotts and advocated the closing down of Israeli/Jewish stores and shops in Europe is largely due to the way in which the left has singled out Israel for delegitimation and demonisation. Many states with demonstrably worse human rights records simply don’t register with the left, whilst the left often supports Islamic terrorist organisations and Arab dictatorships. The singling out of Israel for unfair attack has demonstrably anti-Semitic undertones (shutting down Israeli/Jewish stores were Nazi-fascist tactics).

The notion that Israel is the “only colonial settler-state left in the world” forgets the real context of the continuous historical connection of the Jewish people with Israel and the legitimate creation of Israel in 1948. Thus the Islamist notion of the ‘Nakba’ or ‘catastrophe’ - used as analogous to the holocaust - is a lie and an insult to every victim of Nazi-fascism persecution and aggression.

Benny Morris, the Israeli historian, has shown that viewing the Palestinians as victims is too simplistic and the historical context does not support Greenstein’s Islamist narrative. But this does not satisfy Greenstein’s position and so he enlists the idea that Morris is a “Judeo-Nazi”. It is, of course, a far more complex picture than can be dealt with in a letter, but suffice to conclude that Mr Greenstein’s miseducates and misleads many socialists and communists today, especially the younger generation, who are fed into the arms of Islamists and away from a peaceful and just two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Lost grip
Lost grip

Big lesson

Mike Macnair has pointed out that “there is very little in Marx’s and Engels’ writings on electoral tactics” (‘Propaganda and agitation’, April 28). He went on: “Engels says that Keir Hardie ‘publicly declares that [Irish nationalist Charles Stewart] Parnell’s experiment, which compelled Gladstone to give in, ought to be repeated at the next election and, where it is impossible to nominate a Labour candidate, one should vote for the Conservatives, in order to show the Liberals the power of the party. Now this is a policy which under definite circumstances I myself recommended to the English ...’”

This is a massive revelation - that Engels actually supported a vote for the Tories under certain circumstances! The biggest lesson to draw is that electoral strategy and tactics that are correct at one time may not be correct at another.

I was a member of the Militant Tendency, now the Socialist Party, from 1990 to 1998. I fully supported the Scottish turn, establishing Scottish Militant Labour, which was an extremely successful strategy leading to Tommy Sheridan getting elected from his prison cell (for defying the poll tax) to Glasgow city council in 1992. This led on to a few more electoral victories for SML, the establishment of the Scottish Socialist Alliance and the later formation of the SSP.

I left the Socialist Party when it failed to support the establishment of the SSP in 1998. The SSP was a very successful project, winning one seat (Sheridan’s) in 1999 and six seats in 2003. Contrary to how it is expressed in the Weekly Worker, this was not a failure, despite the disintegration of the SSP after the Sheridan affair.

The best tactics to adopt now are very different - there is a need for a Scottish Revolutionary Socialist Party, as well a broad socialist party like the SSP and Solidarity. Revolutionary platforms of broad socialist parties, including Labour, would also be a massive step forward.

Big lesson
Big lesson

Fat chance

I learnt a great deal when I attended the Lambeth People’s Assembly, organised by Lambeth Save Our Services on Saturday May 21. I heard inspiring contributions from campaigners and trade unionists fighting to retain local services and opposing privatisation and job losses, students learning that their courses will not be continuing the following year, librarians seeking to save reading groups, tenants fighting privatisation and disabled people campaigning to save transport services.

It was a privilege hearing from, Kingsley Abrams, who I understand is the only Labour councillor in London to oppose the cuts to services. For his pains, he has only just been re-admitted to the Labour group on the council. However, his stay is likely to be short-lived, as he pledged to oppose the further waves of cuts and closures planned.

Ted Knight, the former leader of Lambeth council in the 1980s, outlined that the Labour Party should not be meekly going along with the government’s savage cuts, but should be working with campaigners and trade unionists and leading the fight to defend jobs and services. Fat chance!

A political campaign across London is needed and the Greater London assembly elections next year will give all those who oppose the cuts an opportunity to register a protest. The Labour Party have abandoned their history of defending the weak and those reliant on council services. This duty must now fall on others.

Lewisham People Before Profit are keen to talk with all those fighting the cuts to services and would like to explore contesting the GLA elections with others.

Fat chance
Fat chance

Voting tactics

It is a pity that comrade Chris Strafford, in defending the open letter calling for no vote to George Galloway on May 5, did not engage with the actual position of the CPGB of which he is a member.

He writes: “The worst of the attacks on the open letter is the hysterical claim that the 30 or so comrades who signed it are promoting a social-imperialist line ... they are shamefully smeared as social-imperialists and accused of backing Alliance for Workers’ Liberty-type political attacks on Galloway” (Letters, May 19). It would be shameful and even hysterical if it were true that the signatories had been attacked as social-imperialists. But who has done that? Certainly not the CPGB.

It is also a pity that comrade Strafford did not attend the May 8 CPGB members’ aggregate, which debated and unanimously agreed a resolution on the open letter. Chris does not appear to have read this resolution, which, far from writing off the signatories as social-imperialists, recognises their motivation as that of “legitimate disgust at Galloway’s support for and organised links to the tyrannical theocratic regime in Iran”. However, “in focussing solely” on Galloway, the open letter did not clearly oppose “the operations of the imperialists” and therefore “risks associating” members of Hands Off the People of Iran and Communist Students who signed the letter “with the Eustonite/Alliance for Workers’ Liberty camp”. It was for this reason first and foremost that the open letter was a “political mistake” (‘Aggregate resolution’, May 12).

While the signatories were not motivated by social-imperialism, it is in fact the case that the open letter had all the appearances of an ‘AWL-type political attack on Galloway’. It is exactly the style of the AWL to one-sidedly focus on the failings of a single left candidate and to claim that this made him uniquely unsupportable, while saying not a word about the failings of any other left candidate. No wonder the AWL reproduced the open letter on its website. The very fact that this occurred should have made comrade Strafford stop and think.

He implies that the Weekly Worker’s support for Galloway was not really “critical” - we failed to expose his “awful politics and links with the Iranian regime ... for this election”. In reality we did not actually give him - or any other left candidate - much support (in the way, say, that The Socialist campaigned week after week for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition). We published just two articles before the election explaining our attitude and in both we gave equal space to condemning Galloway’s links to the Iran regime as to explaining why he should be supported nevertheless.

We did not place “extra conditions” on the Scottish Socialist Party and Socialist Labour Party by recommending a vote for Galloway’s Coalition Against Cuts in Glasgow rather than them. We made it clear that all three met our conditions for support for working class anti-cuts candidates. Despite their obvious failings, the election of any of their lead candidates would have resulted in a small advance for the working class cause. All three would have provided some kind of working class voice against the cuts (as well as against imperialist wars, etc). But workers obviously could not vote for all of them, and only Galloway had any chance of being elected (and at least his campaign could be seen as part of the Britain-wide working class resistance rather than the Scottish separatism of the SSP). Elsewhere in Scotland there was no point in suggesting which of the three no-hope sectarian campaigns (SSP, SLP, Solidarity) were more worthy of working class votes than their rivals.

It is unfortunate that Chris Strafford accuses CPGB comrades like Jack Conrad of telling “a lie” for stating that Galloway’s backing for the Iran regime is similar to the support for Stalinist regimes offered by ‘official communists’ or the Workers Revolutionary Party for Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. In my view all have been truly nauseating and should equally be condemned, and it is rather uncomradely of Chris to accuse his fellow CPGBers of lying for disagreeing with him on this. Personally I think his assertion that “Galloway is a conscious cog in the machine of terror directed at the Iranian people” is an absurd exaggeration (you might just as well accuse Paul Mason of Newsnight of being a similar “cog in the machine of terror” of British imperialism). But I do not accuse comrade Strafford of lying for making it.

Finally, let me point out to comrade Strafford the nature of electoral tactics. This means that working class internationalists able to contest an election in Tehran would highlight different aspects of their programme than those contesting in Glasgow. In Tehran their main focus would be the repressive regime, I would suggest, while in Glasgow it would be the cuts, not to mention anti-imperialism. In Iran genuine communists would perhaps give critical support to any working class candidate who demanded the end of the regime, irrespective of serious failings and weaknesses, such as support for austerity measures, for instance.

Contradictory? No. When our class is weak we try to build support for our side by focussing on the key dividing lines, while refusing to be diverted by issues, however important, that are secondary at a given time or place.

Voting tactics
Voting tactics