The riots, which started off in London but have now spread to other parts of the country, throw up a predicament for socialists. Yes, we understand that the underlying motives are not only anger at police harassment and racist police killings, but also cuts to benefits, cuts to services and the rise in unemployment. Youth unemployment stands at nearly a million. Yet, unsurprisingly, most of the media has focused upon the looting.
Socialists should have a twofold position on this. We should stand shoulder to shoulder with those stealing necessities, such as food and bread, which is completely understandable; but I see no reason why we should support lumpen sections of society whose motives for looting is simply to enrich themselves. We should oppose the lumpen looting not because of bourgeois property values, but because this will only damage and divide working class communities, as will attacks on paramedics and firefighters, who themselves face cuts.
Our aim is to strengthen the workers’ movement against the state, which is why we should oppose state involvement in the riots and continue to police the police, but also campaign for our unions to hold to account Labour MPs like David Lammy of Tottenham, who came out in opposition to the riots.
Additionally, we need to campaign for our unions to get involved in any defence campaigns in respect of the rioters. To do so, especially if we also set about the building of an unemployed workers’ union as well, would only help to integrate the working class youth into the wider workers’ and anti-cuts movement, thus strengthening our side in the battle against the Tories.
The riots in London were sparked initially by an armed man being shot dead by police in Tottenham and it is unclear whether he threw his gun down first. Even if he did, the police may well have thought he might have other guns on him. This is a very clear reason why ‘the right to carry arms’ in the US constitution and, apparently, in the aims of the CPGB’s programme is so dangerous.
I make no bones about being basically a pacifist, and I can’t support this policy at all. As to a ‘workers’ militia’, this also sits uneasily with me, but, I suppose, if it means a highly disciplined trained group with access to certain arms (not indiscriminate weapons) in very extreme circumstances - eg, to protect striking workers about to be shot - I could support the idea. Carrying arms generally will only make one a legitimate target - not only by the police or army, but anyone who feels threatened by those arms. Quite apart from the argument that people with guns can go crazy and we all know of tragic results of such incidents.
However, the riots which are now taking place have little to do with what happened in Tottenham, and certainly nothing to do with a revolution. It is mindless violence and looting and is causing ordinary working class people to walk in fear of often masked youths patrolling the streets, starting fires and looting shops. You wonder where this will lead next. By the time this is published, there may well be curfews announced, the army brought in, even martial law declared. No country can tolerate total anarchy on its cities’ streets, although the widespread culture of teenage armed gangs creating virtual no-go areas, along with the virtual disappearance of police ‘walking the beat’, has led to this situation, which is now fast getting completely out of control
I’m sure many readers will see this as a ‘revolutionary situation’ or leading up to one, but I see it very negatively as the beginning of the breakdown of civilised behaviour - the very opposite of what socialists and communists should be seeking to achieve. If we are to bring about a change in society, where there are no deprived or disadvantaged sections of the population, then it must be done in an organised and ordered way, certainly not in this anarchic outbreak of violence, arson and looting.
Of course, these things are all symptoms of the collapsing capitalist system. Spending cuts, the collapse of banks and so on have led to a situation where large sections of society don’t have the means to buy the luxury goods dangled before their eyes, but that is no excuse for looting and arson. Changing society and creating a more equal distribution of wealth must be done in an organised, orderly fashion first through the ballot box. Only if and when the parliamentary road is blocked should more direct action be taken. That would be through organised strikes and peaceful demonstrations to enforce the will of the people, not through the anarchy we are seeing in these violent riots. Remember that the police and army are composed of working class people, so they too must be won over.
I remind comrades again that violent revolution almost always results in a violent and brutal dictatorship, in which ordinary people are the victims.
I will watch with close interest what other comrades say in the Weekly Worker about these riots. My future association with the publication and the CPGB depends on the reaction, but I think the clause about ‘right to bear arms’ needs close scrutiny. The right of whom to bear which arms and in what situation? Give every maniac a gun? I don’t think so. If that’s your policy, comrades, I’m outta here fast!
David Cameron has announced that he will ignore any ‘human rights’ legislation that might prevent the prosecution of rioters. He seems to have forgotten that we have a supreme court in Britain, the European Court of Human Rights, and treaties guaranteeing the law. I am informed by a barrister and law professor that what Cameron proposes is completely unconstitutional and illegal.
Cameron should remember what happened to Louis XVI during the French Revolution. He lost his head and it rather spoiled his constitution. Does Cameron believe L’état c’est moi? If he cares to step outside the houses of parliament, he will see the statue of Oliver Cromwell, who explained most eloquently the status of government and of English law.
When it comes to looting, it’s a fine old tradition of the British empire. And the looting we are currently witnessing pales into insignificance compared to that carried out by the banks, aided and abetted by the government.
But if Cameron wants a repeat of the French Revolution he can certainly have one (although we would certainly prefer a more orderly transition).
It is always a good idea when engaging in polemics to make sure you are arguing against your opponent’s actual position. But that is not the method of comrade Steve Freeman (Letters, August 4). Whether out of carelessness, sloppy phrasing or some other reason, he misrepresents the CPGB position on the Labour Party and what I wrote in my last letter in a number of ways.
“Peter Manson explains that the CPGB is the only group on the left that has been serious about the Labour Party.”
Not quite, Steve. In my previous letter I referred to “the CPGB’s long-standing call for the left to adopt a serious attitude towards the Labour Party” (July 21). This general flippancy has resulted in two main approaches at election time, for example. The first has concluded that, because Labour is the mass party of the working class, we must always vote for all Labour candidates without discrimination. The second arrives at the opposite conclusion: Labour is a bourgeois party pure and simple, which precludes offering any of its candidates even the most critical of support. Both these approaches have been pretty widespread, but that does not mean there are no groups or individuals whose attitude to the Labour Party is serious.
According to comrade Freeman, the CPGB claims “it is OK to join working class organisations, but not ‘set them up’. This is apparently the main difference between the CPGB and Revolutionary Democratic Group.”
On the contrary, it is an excellent thing for revolutionaries to take the initiative in forming all manner of working class organisations, ranging from trade unions and solidarity campaigns to political parties. But it is not a good idea for us to establish halfway-house parties. I chose my words carefully when I pointed out: “Revolutionaries who deliberately set out to establish a party-type formation that is not Marxist will have no option but to water down their Marxism” (emphasis added).
The reason for this is obvious. Unlike unions and single-issue campaigns, parties by their nature put forward a global programme for the running of society. But, in order to attract those to our right to join us in our new halfway-house party, we must be prepared to drop those aspects of our Marxist programme that they will not accept. In reality we cease to be Marxists. The same does not apply when we join non-Marxist parties with the aim of winning their members to Marxism - in this case we continue to campaign around our full programme.
However, it is taking things a bit far to suggest that a disagreement over halfway houses is “the main difference” between the CPGB and the now defunct RDG. I think it goes rather deeper than that.
“Peter speaks about a republican socialist party as a ‘necessary stage’ in the formation of a communist party.”
This reads as though it is the CPGB or myself who believe it to be a necessary stage, when evidently I was arguing the opposite: when communists take the lead in initiating halfway-house parties, it can usually be taken as a sign that they have in practice rejected the need for a communist party.
Comrade Freeman seems to have developed a new theory about the CPGB. Whereas in the past we had “a left-sectarian attitude to the political needs of militant workers”, now we are “turning to the right” and Labourism. On second thoughts, though, Steve realises halfway though his letter that in fact “the CPGB’s Labourism” had been there all along, but had in the past been “camouflaged by pseudo-revolutionary slogans against compromise”.
Very profound. Just what were those “slogans against compromise”? And what exactly was this “left-sectarian attitude to the political needs of militant workers” of ours? The only thing I can think of is our insistence that the left should unite in a single Marxist party - if that happened we would start to provide real answers to those militant workers. Or does comrade Freeman think it preferable for the left to remain divided in their dozens of sects? Should they perhaps dissolve themselves instead into a non-Marxist “republican socialist party”?
Why is engaging more closely with Labour or joining that party necessarily a sign of Labourism? When Lenin advised the newly formed CPGB to apply for Labour affiliation, was he urging communists to become Labourites? Steve may accuse the current CPGB of rightism disguised by ultra-leftism, but the boot is actually on the other foot. The ex-RDG is attempting to cover its rejection in practice of the need for a communist party with anti-Labour leftism.
David Vincent’s argument (Letters, July 21) that joining the Labour Party to pull it to the left would be a distraction is really sectarianism of the worst kind.
When capitalism was in the ascendancy, Vincent’s argument would have held some plausibility. Now, however, capitalism is faced with long-term decline, not as a result of overproduction, as Marxism predicted, but as the consequence of industrial society reaching the great historical turning point of the peak in global oil production and thus the end of the cheap oil era.
The only obstacle I can see to the left eventually winning the leadership of the Labour Party is Marxist sectarianism and dogmatism - that is the same problem which impedes unity outside of Labour. Rather than splitting the working class with the formation of a new workers’ party, the left should be patient and bide its time, and in the meantime work out a form of socialism that will be able to cope with the coming energy crisis.
Your precise article on the decision of the Socialist Party in England and Wales to withdraw from Unison should raise some eyebrows (‘Giving up on Unison’, August 4). You note: “But … the latest move seems destined to go the same way as all SPEW attempts to coax a replacement Labour Party into existence.”
However, this misunderstands the basic flaws within this premise. Only a Labour Party based on real justice will succeed where Ed Miliband will perhaps not. This means workers’ courts, public employment tribunals, a democratically elected, recallable and adequately stewarded police force, and a truly extreme form of justice.
Peter Manson only raises the issue of the Labour Party’s failure on the issue of basic working class self-organised justice. Or, as Marx slyly retorted in the Grundrisse, “only extreme justice from the emaciated class can bring about this splendid day of revolution.”
Dave Douglass raises a number of false arguments in his letter concerning Bombardier (Letters, July 28). Firstly, he talks about the workers at Derby already doing these jobs. That isn’t true. This was a new contract for new work, and Bombardier lost. But even were that not the case, it would be irrelevant.
There are lots of jobs producing lots of things that British workers previously did which are now done by workers in other countries. The reason for that is that the firms in those other countries have been able to produce those goods more cheaply than can British capitalists. Sometimes that is due to capital being able to take advantage of cheap labour - eg, in China. Often it has simply been that foreign capital has invested in more modern, better equipment, and has introduced more efficient systems - eg, Germany. Sometimes it is a question of both - eg, China again.
To demand that workers who are already producing something in Britain should continue to do so is ridiculous. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were two million miners. If there had been no reduction in that number, then there would not have been capital released to produce all of the other things we now take for granted. Nor would there have been workers available to produce them. So long as capitalism exists, that is the way it will allocate capital - according to where it can maximise profits. To object to it doing that by allocating production to some other country, providing employment for workers elsewhere, is indeed to advocate a nationalist rather than socialist perspective.
Moreover, it is to argue not socialist politics, but merely trade union politics. Suppose this had been a military contract: would Dave be happy with the work continuing purely to save those jobs, if the end product were, say, armoured vehicles to be sent to the King of Bahrain? A socialist should not simply be for the limited goal of saving jobs. But a Marxist would not say, ‘Well, too bad then - just close the factory down!’ A Marxist would argue for a plan of alternative, useful production. Indeed I would argue that the workers should occupy and use that position to produce under their own control, developing their own plan for useful production that could be sold profitably, as thousands of other workers have done, setting up worker-owned cooperatives.
By contrast, Dave’s demand for nationalisation under workers’ control is pie in the sky. It is both reformist and utopian. Why does he think that this Tory government would have any inclination to nationalise this company? Even if it did, why does he think they would then simply hand it over to the workers to run, whilst shouldering the burden of risk itself? Of course it wouldn’t. Moreover, as a former miner, he should think about what nationalisation of the mines actually brought. As with every other nationalisation by the capitalist state, it brought massive rationalisation, massive job losses and speed-up, repeated conflicts with the workers by a hard-nosed, capitalist management and, eventually after it had been made profitable through such policies, handed back to private capital.
I agree with him, however, that the process of evaluating contracts should be the same in relation to social costs. But there is an argument for saying that social costs should not be included at all. He’s right that Andrew Glyn did that in trying to show that the National Coal Board’s figures on uneconomic pits were wrong. However, you can’t take social costs into consideration for anything other than the short run because it does not take into account that beyond that capital and labour will be re-allocated to more profitable production. More importantly, the social costs argument can be used to divert from the real issue, which is that we should not accept that jobs should be lost due to capitalist rationality, wherever the work goes. Instead we should occupy, and establish worker-owned co-ops, thereby bringing the means of production under our control.
The problem with Dave’s approach is that you end up having to explain things by appealing to very strange arguments. He says that the decision to close the pits had nothing to do with profitability, but of course it did. British coal may have been cheaper than foreign coal, but the point was that there was just too much of it. When the NCB’s main customers, the CEGB and British Steel, moved to alternative fuels, there simply was not enough demand for coal to sustain existing levels of output. Moreover, although British coal on average was cheaper than much foreign coal, that was only due to the fact that the most efficiently produced coal at the big new mines was acting to bring that average down. It was not true of the less efficient pits. The truth of that can be seen from the fact that, long after the NUM had been defeated and the mines had been privatised, the private owners did not expand production either, but continued to rationalise.
But Dave has to explain this in terms of some unspoken conspiracy to dismantle British heavy industry just for the hell of it! Why would British capital do that? It exists to make profits. He’s right that similar trends have occurred in other European economies, but fails to consider that the reason for that is not some unexplained conspiracy to deindustrialise, but the fact that capital is able to make higher profits elsewhere. It is for that reason that demanding the rebuilding of all those heavy industries that have already demonstrated that they were no longer globally competitive is utopian.
Even if Britain were a workers’ state, it is unlikely that we would want to do that other than for some strategic reason, because it would be a waste of our resources. We are far more able to use our labour-power and other resources to produce other, more high-value goods, capable of paying higher wages, and to sell those products on the global market to purchase all those things which can now be produced far more efficiently elsewhere and which in the process have helped to build new powerful working classes in Asia, in Latin America and increasingly in Africa. As Marxists, we should welcome that historic development in the growth of the world working class.
Having read D Douglass’s letter, I noticed that it attempted to address certain issues related to globalism in a manner which was far too little and far too late. What he describes has been going on for at least 15 years. Large transnational corporations dominate the economic landscape and politics is framed by all politicians in such a manner to serve their interests. The race to the bottom is EU policy as well as Washington’s. Where companies can’t relocate they import labour.
With the Bolkenstein directive the race to the bottom becomes EU state policy. One cannot have a policy of resistance if one isn’t first of all a proponent of regulation, whether it is in currencies, immigration, labour supply, hours worked, etc. To support an economic free-for-all in all spheres of human activity by asserting that first global resistance has to occur before national, as the Weekly Worker does, ensures it is one of the papers that is in support of hyper-globalism. Hence it ridicules demands for ‘British jobs for British workers’ and in reality adopts Mandelson’s line that the “populist, anti-immigrant, Europhobic, anti-globalisation language used by blue Labour” is essentially reactionary, conservative and backward (The Guardian July 27). In other words, workers shouldn’t fight to defend what they have in the here and now, bringing to mind Trotsky’s famous dictum that those who cannot defend workers’ gains today have no hope in gaining any in the future.
Last year the Weekly Worker argued that the euro should be defended at all costs despite the consequences of such a policy for countries like Greece. Having prioritised this, they then went on to ignore the tumultuous events of June in Greece, denounced as nationalist all demands which call for an exit from the EU, having shown in practice to be acolytes of Brussels. Contrary to the reality that millions in Greece have demonstrated against all politicians by waving Greek flags, many have openly called for a return to the drachma and politicians have difficulty now showing their faces in public due to popular anger.
Resistance where issues are acute may take priority over areas where they are not. A coordinated revolution encompassing Eritrea and Switzerland or Latvia and Norway at one and the same time are for people who have no link to living social struggles.
Those who assume internationalism is the globalism of the transnationals and that all controls - in particular import controls or immigration controls - are reactionary have made their peace with those transnationals.
Eddie Ford’s article on the Budget Control Act is, of course, correct in stating that the act represents a vicious attack against the working class (‘Sugar-coated Satan sandwich’, August 4). It is symbolic that it comes on the 30th anniversary of the air traffic controllers’ strike in 1981, whose smashing by Ronald Reagan marked an intensification of the capitalists’ assault on the working class.
This act may well turn out to be an equally significant turning point. The tragedy - crime, to be more exact - then was that the official labour movement barely lifted a finger in defence of the striking union. And it promises to do even less against this latest assault, aside from issuing anguished statements.
I write to take issue with comrade Ford’s seeming enthusiasm for the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “Most of those Democrats who opposed the debt deal,” he writes, “are members of the 83-member Congressional Progressive Caucus. The CPC is ‘organised around the principles of social and economic justice’, a ‘non-discriminatory society’ and ‘national priorities which represent the interests of all people, not just the wealthy and powerful’.”
That sounds lovely, but I’m afraid that the CPC is no more truthful or reliable than other capitalist politicians. For example, their vote against the final budget bill was just one more charade in the months of political theatre, since by then it was clear that the bill was going to pass without their help. At an earlier stage in the process, however, on July 30, the entire CPC voted for the plan of Harry Reid, the Senate Democrats’ majority leader, which not only called for trillions of dollars in cuts, but went along with the Republican right wing in not increasing taxes on business or the rich - exactly the kind of ‘unbalanced’ scheme the liberals claim to oppose.
Curiously, comrade Ford observes that the CPC platform is “strongly supported by the Communist Party of the United States of America.” That is undoubtedly true, and should have served as a warning sign, since the Stalinists made their transition to counterrevolutionary defenders of capitalism back in the 1930s. The CPUSA has served in effect as a loyal tendency inside the Democratic Party for over half a century.
Comrade Ford does a fine job in exposing the anti-working class character of the budget bill. But it is equally the responsibility of communists to expose the false friends of the working class, and that includes all the Democratic Party politicians and factions.
Arthur Bough (Letters, August 4) objects to a number of formulations in my article on the media (‘Politics of press freedom’, July 28).
One is a matter, somewhat, of cross-talk. I agree that the context of imminent workers’ rule is important to understanding Lenin’s positions on this question. Furthermore, I do not dispute that the ‘workers’ government’ formulation leaves much to be desired - in fact, I am likely far less favourably disposed to it than comrade Bough (I would refer him to Mike Macnair’s commentary on it in Revolutionary strategy).
Nevertheless, the admission on the part of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty that press nationalisation is only potentially progressive under some form of workers’ rule, however ambiguously defined, is at least an advance over the Socialist Party in England and Wales, which seems wholly unconcerned with the matter.
I take issue with Bough’s indifference to the matter of monopolisation: “Marxists do not respond to the existence of such monopolies [as Murdoch’s] by calling for a return to some previous, ‘free market’ form of capitalism.” That is perfectly true when it comes to the simply material products of society. There is no sense in breaking up Tesco into a thousand competing franchises; indeed, there is not much sense in it being separate from Sainsburys. The veneration of ‘small enterprise’ is the most obviously petty bourgeois of all utopias.
Equally, there are things that are so naturally monopolistic - basic infrastructure and so on - that there is a compelling economic logic even from the point of view of capital that they should be publicly owned.
The press, however, is a special case, because we are not dealing with the production or distribution of indifferent material goods, but with ideas. When you or I buy a newspaper, we are not interested in the paper, but the words and the pictures; in short, in the ideas. That control of the media is an element of bourgeois political supremacy is supremely obvious, now of all times; indifference to the monopolisation of the media means indifference to an aspect of the ruling class political regime, and thus abstention from a key arena of struggle.
Thus, comrade Bough makes the same fundamental mistake as the SPEW. The latter’s all-purpose solution to capitalist monopolisation is nationalisation under democratic control; Bough prefers, under capitalist conditions, to call for cooperative ownership (not a bad idea for some parts of the industry, probably). Neither, however, is able to grasp that the press is not just another industry, but a distinct political question in its own right - thus the solutions they serve up are fundamentally economistic.