Dave Douglass accuses me of misrepresenting his comments in the past on the question of state capitalism (Letters, December 22). Well, as he says, the public record is there for all to see what he actually said, and what I criticised him for. But, in fact, it is Dave who has misrepresented my position, suggesting that I had merely stated in relation to Bombardier that there was nothing that could be done short of the revolution, because “that is the way capitalism works”. That, of course, is a gross distortion. I said nothing of the kind.
I reject Dave’s nationalist solution of calling on the British workers to line themselves up with their own bosses at the expense of the German workers. The ludicrous nature of Dave’s approach can be seen by simply asking him what his response would be to German workers threatened with losing their jobs, had the decision been reversed as a result of pressure being placed on the government. Would he then, as a German trade union militant, have been calling on workers to have lined up with their bosses and the German government to demand that the decision be reversed once again to protect their jobs? How far are you prepared to go down that road?
But I also reject the reformist demand that Peter Manson put forward, and which Dave Douglass has supported in relation to BAe, for the workers to line up with the bosses in another way: by demanding the capitalist state become their exploiter in place of a group of individual capitalists - ie, demanding nationalisation. Marx and Engels were totally opposed to sowing such illusions in the minds of workers, and so too much later was Trotsky, who described such schemes as “the greatest deception”. Perhaps the clearest statements against such an approach were made by Marx in the Critique of the Gotha programme, and in Engels’ subsequent letters elaborating on it. But Engels too made their position clear in his own Critique of the 1891 Erfurt programme.
The programme had called for: “Free medical care, including midwifery and medicines. Free burial.” Engels writes in response: “These points demand that the following should be taken over by the state: (1) the bar, (2) medical services, (3) pharmaceutics, dentistry, midwifery, nursing, etc, and later the demand is advanced that workers’ insurance become a state concern. Can all this be entrusted to Mr von Caprivi? [German chancellor after Bismarck] And is it compatible with the rejection of all state socialism, as stated above?” (www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1891/06/29.htm).
Like Marx and Engels, I do not call on the workers to line up with their bosses against foreign workers, nor to put their faith in the good offices of the capitalist state, but to rely on their own revolutionary collective action. Like them, I argue for the workers to take over the means of production themselves when they are threatened with loss of their jobs. That is what the workers of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders did during the 1970s and it is what the French workers did in 1968. And, like many of the Argentinian workers have done, they should then turn these enterprises into worker cooperatives, as Marx and Engels advised. By the way, if they did do that, then I would be in favour of arguing for work to go to them rather than to foreign capitalist firms - not because they were foreign, but because they were capitalist!
But, if we are talking about misrepresentation, Dave’s response to my comments about the attitude of the left in the past in respect of the European Economic Community is a good example of it. In my previous letter, I commented that the picture Dave had painted of a left which had opposed a capitalist EEC on a principled basis was not an accurate representation. I wrote: “In fact, for most of the 1960s, the Trotskyist left opposed the nationalist positions of the CP.” And then, having set out why attempts by these sects to party-build in the later 60s led them to seek to recruit from within the left milieu in the trade unions and Labour left, I continued: “In other words, the policy of opposition to the EEC that existed in the 1970s was not some kind of long-standing principled position that anyone reading Dave Douglass’s account would believe it to be.”
I did not at all deny that much of the left held this nationalist position during the 70s, but the point was that it had collapsed into it, in opportunistic fashion, for narrow party-building reasons, abandoning in the process its previous principled, internationalist position. How does Dave refute this argument? He provides us with a quote from Chris Harman in 1971 and one from Ted Grant in 1975. So Dave simply avoids the substantive point that these positions were completely at odds with those held during most of the 1960s, and the question of why it was they changed them.
Moreover, as I stated previously, his assertion that the issue divided along class lines was not true either. There was a two-to-one majority for staying in, with the vast majority of workers voting for that.
Not so easy
Darren Redstar, (Letters, December 22) criticises me not so much for my criticism of Ian Bone and the Northern Anarchist Network’s support for Nato bombing of Libya, but because I chose to do it in a hated Marxist-Leninist newspaper. First off, let me emphasise that I think Ian has many great organising abilities and has been an inspired revolutionary anarchist organiser and initiator and I greatly like the comrade as a bloke - and a comic too. My criticisms were to a sincere comrade who has got it wrong, for the right reasons.
The Weekly Worker offers a non-sectarian platform for the whole left, anarchism too. Not only that: it happens to be probably the most well-read paper on the left. Despite the anarcho-criticism of my using the paper, I know from every meeting, book fair and rally I attend, that comrades in the anarchist movement actually read the paper, because they always comment on my latest review, article or polemic. I do use Freedom when the material suits it, but it is limited in space and ability to cover topical issues in a relevant time frame which is useful to the movement. It also tends to be rather exclusive in its readership, unlike the Weekly Worker - which everyone knocks, but they still read, by the way.
I consider anarchism to be part of the world communist workers’ movement. I think class war anarchists are fighting for the ear of the working class and authority in that movement. I am not so pessimistic as to believe any despotic ‘left’ Marxist/Leninist/Trotskyist/Stalinist coup will have the capacity to break us from the class and suppress us in the way Darren describes. It could be argued that we are actually the biggest politically tendency on the left, if not within the workers’ movement per se, but also because history ought to tell us to be better armed than them this time round.
Leftist tyrants of the kind Darren has nightmares about might find we have made sure we will not be so easy to shoot and eliminate this time.
Not so easy
Not so easy
Let us recap. This paper publishes the opinions of David Douglass, an avowed and sincere anarchist, on a number of issues - including, most recently, an interesting dissection of Ian ‘Bash the rich’ Bone’s new-found social imperialism (‘In the footsteps of Kropotkin’, December 15). We also publish comradely political criticisms of anarchism’s strategic usefulness for revolutionary politics.
Darren Redstar has nothing to contribute to the substantive debate, but is “perturbed” that comrade Douglass should make use of our organ, since, should we succeed in our aims, the CPGB would - with the inexorable logic of history - “happily shoot all anarchists who presented an alternative opinion to their Leninist dictatorship”.
I wonder whether, given comrade Redstar’s endorsement of that tiresome anarchist paranoia about the invariably malign secret intentions of ‘Leninists’, we should not be watching our backs, rather than him.
The call for ‘no borders’ sounds grand, doesn’t it? Gerry Downing can stick his chest out, having come up with a pious, utopian trump card on all arguments about manning and immigration (Letters, December 15). In any argument which involves workers on this island fighting for their jobs and their communities, and workers from other countries being bussed in to take those jobs and break those communities, folk like Gerry will always condemn the British workers, and support the boss’s ‘right’ to employ who he wants.
‘No borders’ is utterly stupid as a slogan in the conditions which prevail right across the globe at present, and at least for a good couple of hundred years after achieving a communist world. ‘No borders’ cannot be a slogan under capitalism, except during the days of unhindered growth and expansion, such as we witnessed in the opening up of the west during the early years of the USA. Of course, it was someone else’s land, and this ‘right to earn a living’ by millions of poor migrants was at the expense of the native American, who must have prayed for ‘borders’ and ‘immigration control’.
Israel has no problem with ‘No borders’ either, at least not if you’re Jewish and you’re claiming the land of the Palestinians, Jordanians, Syrians or Egyptians. What’s wrong with that? Jewish settlers have the right to live anywhere they choose, don’t they?
Capitalist systems and all succeeding socialist systems will be closed systems to one extent or another. They can only operate based upon budgets and taxation. Socialist economies operate on plans, forecasting growth, populations, production. No matter how big ‘the unit’, its resources will always, until the global achievement of communism and superabundance of wealth, be limited. You simply cannot open up to unlimited migration, and share out the social pot, based upon collective contributions, to those who have not made any. Surely it is more of a racialist option to force poor migrants to come here or anywhere else, when the solution is to improve and construct the economy and change where they actually live? Why should Scots, Geordies, Irish or whoever have to travel to London for work? Demanding the right of these workers to work in London misses an obvious point, doesn’t it?
Work and real productive wealth is limited - it must have an exhaustion point, no matter how thinly you decide to spread the gruel. The amount of real wealth will determine the standard of life, and that will be determined - yes - by how many people are productively producing.
The slogan has no practical application in Britain or Europe. How could it possibly work? Or is it not meant to? Is this meant to drive the system to breaking point, with mass poverty, the collapse of the welfare state and society? Then presumably the Communist Party of the EU will take over on behalf of the people, and do what? Construct an open society with no limits on the demands of its scarce resources? This completely ignores the different stages of communism.
Maybe Gerry thinks you just make that demand in the belief that millions and millions would not actually come. But they would have the right to come. It would be a ‘dog eat dog’, buyers’ market - and a spiral of poverty, unemployment and loss of any sort of union control would follow.
I can just see the Communist Party of the European Union sweeping to a landslide victory across the EC on the slogan, ‘Down with all borders! Away with the racialist, chauvinist workers of Europe! No union control on jobs! No seniority!’ I’ve had my criticism of the Morning Star, Militant and Bob Crow’s No2EU, etc over the years, but, compared with you lot, at least they are trying to fight in the real world, addressing real issues in real struggles, not jerking off to some self-serving, nonsensical wet dreams.
The views of Roscoe Turi are highly reminiscent of the cold war posturing of the Socialist Workers Party - “Neither Moscow nor Washington” - with some added confusion. He champions the left wing of imperialism, as he declares the leaders of target nations to be either dictators or bourgeois nationalists. There is no nation on earth that is not under dictatorship of some form, hidden or open. Bourgeois nationalism, by its strictest definition, is also universal. The question of imperialist expansionism is thus legitimised, while only nominally opposed.
He then claims, confusedly, that fighting to stop the bombing of Libya was somehow not pro-Gaddafi. He was on Gaddafi’s side in this matter even if he did not want to be. The defence of Iran, Syria, Zimbabwe, etc, requires support of the nations’ devices to defend themselves, with recognition that these countries are being demonised by the west; unlike Bahrain, whose current crackdown on its citizens is being ignored.
The Soviet expansion into Poland, which ended in defeat for the Soviets, could well have been a mistake, considering the history of Stalinism in eastern Europe; exporting revolution also seems particularly dangerous if you happen to be Welsh in Turi’s Stalinist projection of a socialist Britain. National sovereignty is hardly an obsession of mine, but it is an essential part of defending countries from imperialist intrigue.
Turi also echoes western propaganda by demonising China’s relations with Zimbabwe. He seems to be unaware of how much of an echo chamber he has become. It has become such a habit - a habit that makes him a counterrevolutionary par excellence.
The whole trend on the left that dismisses anti-imperialism in earnest, that seeks to foment colour revolutions in imperialist target countries, with no regard to the fact that these colour revolutions have all led to the production of imperialist puppets, is destined to be held suspect by those who follow events closely, like the huge amount of youth let down by the cover-up of 9/11 by almost all of the left groups outside Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party.
Spencer A Leonard argues that Stalinism has had a harmful effect on leftwing interpretations of the relationship between Marx’s and Adam Smith’s political economy (‘Adam Smith’s profoundest reader’, December 22). He criticises David Harvey for caricaturing Smith as a liberal utopian who believed that capitalism can function perfectly in the absence of state intervention.
Leonard thinks that Smith’s political economy shows he was a philosopher of freedom and that Marx incorporated Smith’s emancipatory project into his own. He states that Marx’s Capital was “simply bourgeois political economy fully realised” and that Marx constructed “no theory of his own” and generated “no categorical apparatus of his own”.
Leonard’s assimilation of Marx to Smith has the danger of misleading readers into thinking that there was little, if any, difference between the two thinkers. Thus Leonard suggests that Smith’s method was dialectical and that Marx shared Smith’s opinion that the category of value is a “form of human freedom”.
As readers know, Smith’s method was far from dialectical. It was derived from the point of view of the isolated economic individual. The laws of capitalism Smith thought he had discovered were generalisations from observations he made about individuals’ experience and behaviour. Thus he assumed that individuals had a natural disposition to barter and exchange. The cause of this disposition was their sympathetic identification with the attention and praise the rich gained within a hierarchical society. This was Smith’s principle of betterment. It was supposed to operate at all times and in all places.
Smith was an empiricist philosopher whose method led him to eternalise and fetishise market relations. It also led him into inconsistent and confused positions, such as the idea that labour can be used as an invariable standard by which the value of a commodity can be measured. This confusion was adopted later by early socialists, such as Robert
Owen, who attempted to put Smith’s ideas into practice. Thus Owenites tried to substitute money with certificates of units of labour. This theoretical confusion is repeated today in contemporary attempts to abolish money through local exchange and trading networks.
In contrast to Smith, Marx’s method was thoroughly dialectical. Unlike Smith, Marx did not place use-value outside the scope of his investigation. Marx started his investigation with the interpenetration of use- and exchange-value as contradictory opposites within the commodity form. Marx argued that this dialectical doubling of form exists within the substance of value itself. Thus Marx understood living labour dialectically as both abstract and concrete labour - as commoditised labour-power and labour-time that generates both value and use-value.
Contrary to Leonard, Marx thought his discovery of the interpenetration of abstract and concrete labour was a unique contribution to political economy that went far beyond categories used by Smith and Ricardo. Marx was also proud of his discovery of labour-power as the commodity exchanged for capital with the capacity of generating surplus value. These discoveries were “a categorical apparatus” of Marx’s own - not simply the realisation of ideas found within Smith’s political economy.
The category of abstract labour refutes Leonard’s statement that, for Marx, value was a “form of human freedom”. If abstract labour is the form that workers’ alienation takes within capitalism, then workers’ time at work, their subordination to machinery and the rate of intensity at which they work is controlled by value itself. This is an extreme form of inhuman unfreedom leading to exhaustion, mutilation and premature death.
Nonetheless, Leonard is correct to note that Marx, like Smith, shared an emancipatory project. This was not just that they were both opposed to slavery, but that they were both committed to a scientific understanding of society. Smith hoped he would be remembered as the Newton of the moral sciences and Engels famously compared Marx to Darwin. Both thought that social science would enlarge the scope of human freedom.
There is a class dimension to this project. This again highlights their differences. Smith thought his science could be used by a professional elite in order to manage capitalism for the benefit of all classes. Marx hoped his science would be used to help the proletariat to recognise its potential to abolish value, exchange, the commodity form, abstract labour and the market as necessary means of creating a classless, democratically planned society worldwide.
As part of this project, Marx intended his critique of Smith’s political economy to reveal what was scientific and what was ideological. One aspect of the latter was not only Smith’s “liberal utopianism”, but - arguably more importantly in the struggle for class-consciousness - the utopianism of Smith’s socialist interpreters.
I’d like to comment on Tony Greenstein’s wide-ranging review of my book, Jewish identity and Palestinian rights: diaspora Jewish opposition to Israel (‘Anti-Semitism in anti-Zionist garb’, December 15). Mainly, in fact, to comment on one sentence, which contains the core of the criticism he has of the book: “A major problem with Landy’s book is that it is overlain by sociological jargon and concepts.”
It would be easy to pour scorn on this sentence: ‘It’s a sociological book, damn it, about sociological issues - of course it uses sociological concepts.’ Or ‘Would the reviewer have complained about too much economic jargon in an economics book?’ And so on.
However, Greenstein’s disdain for the sociological language of the book is important, if for no other reason than because some other movement activists have said the same thing. In essence: ‘Nice enough book, shame about the sociology.’ This may well be a fault in my writing, in not being accessible enough. But, like any self-respecting sociologist, I’d prefer to blame wider social forces for any problems. In particular, I’d see this as a result of how sociological language actively repels many people in movements, itself a product of sociology’s retreat to the ivory tower.
This repulsion is a problem, for there are solid reasons I spoke in ‘sociology’ - modifying the ideas of Pierre Bourdieu with reference to social movement theory. Simply put, I found this to be the best way to elaborate complex and coherent arguments. In failing to, or rather deciding not to, engage with this language, Greenstein has also, unfortunately, failed to engage with any of the central arguments of the book. Thus his review remains strangely disjointed, a review which describes some pieces of the book quite well without describing the book itself.
The book’s central argument, briefly, is that this Jewish movement’s identity and even ideology is produced in the process of trying to ‘translate’ Palestinian demands to various local fields - mainly the national political field and the local Jewish field. Furthermore, this process of local field contention and translation can often erase these Palestinian political demands and political personhood. It is a tendency all distant-issue movements face, and as such is a problem which those of us involved in these movements should face up to. It is admittedly very tricky to do so. I know well that when I’m on a Palestine solidarity stall it is much easier to attract the public by calling for support for Palestinian human rights rather than asking them to support Palestinians struggle. And yet, by doing so, through this process of local field contention, I’m complicit in the portrayal of Palestinians as victims to save rather than as active political subjects with whom we should be in solidarity.
This argument then helps explain the tensions solidarity movements have to negotiate. It also offers a useful rejoinder to Gilad Atzmon’s toxic nonsense, which Greenstein rightly skewers. There are undoubtedly problems with how Jewish groups who oppose Israel relate to Palestinians - it would be astonishing if it were otherwise. However, such tensions and problems derive from their status as movements in contention rather than their status as Jews. Ignoring Palestinians is, in other words, not a Jewish problem - it is a movement problem, also evident within the wider Palestinian solidarity movement.
And, as a movement problem, it can be addressed; movements can learn and movements, fundamentally, move. Indeed, it is impressive just how far Jewish individuals and Jewish groups involved in criticising Israel have moved, how much more aware and responsive they are to Palestinian political demands than even five years ago. And, yes, unapologetically, I use concepts from sociology to discuss this - less to blind the reader with science; more as the best way of tracking and understanding this complex social process.
I am curious as to why the proceedings of the conference in London sponsored by Historical Materialism in November are not being made available online. I haven’t been able to locate any conference papers collected for distribution by HM, either by Googling the conference proceedings or Historical Materialism itself. That’s not ordinarily an insurmountable task.
Is it because they are being collected for another $100 book to be published by Brill? If what was said at the conference is so significant, why isn’t it out there for comrades all over the place to take note of, discuss and even learn from? Is it that this contribution to the project is on hold until the press runs?
Does this in any way exemplify why the left is insignificant, and in such deep trouble?
Writing about George Orwell’s Animal Farm in The Guardian on April 17 2010, the late Christopher Hitchens proclaimed in the modest fashion we came to expect from him: “There is a Stalin pig and a Trotsky pig, but no Lenin pig … Nobody appears to have pointed this out at the time (and if I may say so, nobody but myself has done so since; it took years to notice what was staring me in the face).”
Nobody noticed at the time? Someone did. Writing in The Nation on September 7 1946, US leftwinger Isaac Rosenfeld reviewed Orwell’s tale, explaining that Snowball was “Trotsky, with a soupçon of Lenin - for simplicity’s sake, Vladimir Ilyich is left out of the picture, entering it only as a dybbuk who shares with Marx old Major’s identity, and with Trotsky, Snowball’s.” This review is reproduced in Jeffrey Meyers’ collection, George Orwell: the critical heritage (London 1975).
And did nobody else notice this fact until our observant Mr Hitchens made his discovery? Well, not exactly. Twenty or so years later, BT Oxley wrote in his brief George Orwell (London 1967) that “there is no figure corresponding to Lenin (Major dies before the rising takes place)”; and another decade down the line Alex Zwerdling, in his major study, Orwell and the left (New Haven 1978), wrote about the discrepancies between the course of the Russian Revolution and the events in Orwell’s fable, and informed us: “The most striking of these is the omission of Lenin from the drama. Major … is clearly meant to represent Marx, while Napoleon and Snowball act out the conflict in the post-revolutionary state between Stalin and Trotsky. David Wykes’s A preface to Orwell (Harlow 1987) also clearly indicated the absence of a Lenin parallel in Animal Farm.
A decade ago, I wrote I know how but I don’t know why: George Orwell’s conception of totalitarianism (Coventry 1999, reprinted 2000); and a revised version of it was published in the collection, George Orwell: enigmatic socialist (London 2005). Once again, Lenin’s absence was duly noted: “Some of the characters are eponymous. The taciturn, devious and ambitious Napoleon is clearly Stalin, and the more inventive and vivacious Snowball is an equally obvious Trotsky … There is, however, no porcine Lenin, as Major (Marx) dies just before the animals take over the farm, although the displaying of Major’s skull is reminiscent of the rituals around the embalmed Bolshevik leader.”
Many other authorities have attempted to find Lenin somewhere in the piggery. Jenni Calder’s Animal Farm and Nineteen eighty-four (Milton Keynes 1987)claimed that “Major is a composite of Marx and Lenin”; a view that also appeared in Averil Gardner’s George Orwell (Boston 1987), Jeffrey Meyers’ A reader’s guide to George Orwell (London 1984), Brodies notes (London 1976), and York notes (Harlow 1980).
On the other hand, Robert Lee’s Orwell’s fiction (London 1969) and Ruth Ann Lief’s Homage to Oceania (Ohio 1969) both reckoned that Major was Lenin. Finally, in International Socialism No 44 (autumn 1989), John Molyneux took a quite different viewpoint:
“It is clear that Napoleon represents Stalin, just as Old Major is Marx and Snowball is Trotsky. Who then represents Lenin? Since Orwell depicts the rebellion as led by two pigs, Napoleon and Snowball, one is forced to the conclusion that Napoleon also represents Lenin. Thus in Animal Farm the figures of Lenin and Stalin are merged into one character.”
So the absence in Animal Farm of a pig representing Lenin, or of a character that at least partly represented him, has been discussed by a wide variety of writers over no less a time than six decades.
I will not say that nobody praised Christopher Hitchens for his modesty. But I doubt if many people did.
I enjoy reading your articles, but your writer, Jim Creegan, is awful. Otherwise, please keep up the good work.